Chinese Nail Houses

In rapidly developing China, it is apparently common to see old ramshackle housing sitting unperturbed amid intense construction. The Chinese call these properties nail houses. They are often the only standing structure on a block that has been completely demolished, making them look like nails sticking out of a flat board. The analogy also suggests that the property owners themselves are like nails who the hammer has missed and who stubbornly refused to be pounded down. Since most of the large-scale real estate development projects in China are commissioned by the government, developers are able to be a lot more coercive with holdout residents. They begin carrying out projects around an occupied domicile knowing that eventually the resident will be forced to leave and construction will be allowed resume as usual. I’m not sure what recourse property owners have available to them in the Chinese courts. There are evidently scenarios in which residents have secured the right to remain in their homes. The lengths to which developers will go to compel holdouts to leave are rather striking:

This crater in Shenzhen (mainland Hong Kong) is supposed to be the site of an 88-storey financial center. 389 other property owners accepted compensation for their land. The 340th refused. He claimed that his building was worth more that what they were offering him. The developer argued that when Hong Kong merged into the People’s Republic of China the land reverted to state property and that he no longer held any claim to it. The Chinese government refused to intervene on the matter, so the developer began removing earth around the house and effectively isolating it from the rest of the city. After 11 days, the property owner and the developer finally came to an agreement over compensation.

It is only within the last 30 years that people in China were even allowed to own land. If someone owns land it is usually to conduct business on. Many small shopkeepers own the land upon which their stores sit. Because of this one will see dilapidated newsstands and restaurants sitting in the middle of shiny, new public plazas.

This house in Chongqing and its owner became famous as eminent domain holdouts. The house sat right in the middle of a block where developers wanted to build a high-rise apartment building. The owner of the house wanted an apartment in the building of comparable size to her current house. The developer of the apartment building offered her a small sum of money instead, which she vocally refused. To this the developer and construction company isolated the house and its resident by digging out a ten-meter deep pit around the property. They did not even leave her with a causeway to the street. With no electricity gas or running water, the owner had supplies like food and propane hoisted up to her. She resisted seizure of her house for 2 years before finally settling with the developer in 2007 for 3.5 million yuan (US$453,000).

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