By Adélaïde Remiche –
On 24 April 2012, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down a unanimous judgment in the case of Yordanova and others v Bulgaria, in which it ruled against Bulgaria for its attempt to remove Bulgarian nationals of Roma origin from their homes which had been unlawfully built on a municipal land in the neighbourhood of Sofia.
In short, the Court found that the enforcement of the removal order would amount to a violation of the applicants’ right to respect for their home guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Even though the eviction order was in accordance with domestic law and pursued legitimate aims, it was not ‘necessary in a democratic society’ as the decision-making procedure ‘did not offer safeguards against disproportionate interference [with the right to respect for one’s home] but also involved a failure to consider the question of “necessity in a democratic society”’ (§ 114).
The judgment shows that the Article 8 right to respect for one’s home is not interpreted in isolation from the social right to adequate housing, protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the European Social Charter (ESR). Rather, when the ECtHR assesses the compatibility of an eviction with the right to respect for one’s home, it tends to mobilise similar principles as the ones developed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR).
First, even though both the ECtHR and the Committees accept that evictions may be justifiable, in particular when a land or a dwelling is unlawfully occupied, neither considers this to be a sufficient condition. As a matter of fact, both the Committees and the ECtHR consider that a balance ought to be struck between the right to property and other rights and interests. Moreover, independent of whether the issue of forced evictions is dealt with under the right to respect for one’s home or the right to adequate housing, the (quasi-) jurisprudence of the Court and the Committees highlights that the two same questions have to be asked: are the procedural safeguards sufficient to protect the interests at stake against disproportionate interference?; and is the forced eviction proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued?
Second, both the ECtHR and the Committees insist on the need to consider, and take seriously, the risk of homelessness that may result from forced evictions. Even though the right to respect for one’s home cannot (yet?) be interpreted as requiring the State to provide alternative accommodations, the Court imposes on national authorities to consider ‘arrangements for alternative shelter’ (§ 133). Interestingly, in documents listed by the ECtHR as ‘relevant international material’, both Committees insisted on the need to avoid rendering homeless those affected by the removal order. For instance, in its General Comment no 7 the CESCR urged States to take seriously the risk of homelessness, pointing out that the right to adequate housing imposes on States to avoid carrying out evictions that would ‘result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights’ (§ 16). However, neither the Court nor the Committees imposes an unqualified duty on national authorities to provide evicted people with alternative housing.
This post is based on an Article published in the latest issue of the Human Rights Law Review. For a more detailed and in depth analysis, see A. REMICHE, ‘Yordanova and others v Bulgaria: the Influence of the Social Right to Adequate Housing on the Interpretation of the Civil Right to Respect for one’s Home’  Human Rights Law Review 787-800