Seminar – Housing and social control: a legal evaluation

Housing is often used as a means to discipline people. This is done in different ways. Sometimes people need to fulfil special conditions in order to get access to housing, for example the Dutch Rotterdamwet (Inner City Problems (Special Measures) Act) that limits access to housing in certain areas of cities to people with low income. Landlords may also apply (discriminatory) conditions in selecting their tenants. Based on the place where people live, they are sometimes subjected to additional requirements, such as bringing their children to day-care (Danish ‘ghetto laws’) or participating in return/integration programs or fulfilling a daily or weekly reporting obligation (migrants living in reception centres). Such requirements are enforced by (threats of) reducing or withholding social benefits. Finally, threatening with eviction and homelessness is used as a way to encourage people to display norm-conform behavior (for example the ‘scum villages’ made of container houses for people who display anti-social behaviour in Amsterdam, or the ‘Enforcement and Supervision Centre’ for asylum seekers who caused a serious nuisance).

Hence, we identify three main ways of using housing policy to discipline people, even though many policies use a combination:

  • Selective admission
  • Additional rules based on place of residence, enforced by reducing or withdrawing social benefits
  • Additional rules based on use of housing, enforced by evictions.

Using housing policies as a means of social control has a long history (cf. the Dutch Veenhuizen housing colony in the nineteenth century) and much has been written about it in the social sciences (e.g. Katuna en Silfen-Glasberg 2014; Harnett en Postmus 2010; Fitzpatrick, Watts & Johnsen 2014). But how should we evaluate this from a legal perspective? Is law only instrumental in realizing such policies, or does it also set limits on such policies? How do such policies relate to human rights law or EU law? Is there effective access to justice? How can legislators, policy makers or landlords be hold accountable?

In this seminar, we aim to bring together legal scholars from various legal subdisciplines, i.e. private law, social security law, migration law, EU law, human rights law etc. Questions we aim to address include, but are not limited to:

  • How do housing policies as means of social control relate to human rights, in particular the right to housing, the right to choose a place of residence, and the right to respect for a home?
  • How do housing policies as means of social control relate to the prohibition of discrimination?
  • What legal remedies are available? Do they provide effective protection?
  • What do these developments mean for the interpretation of traditional legal concepts such as ‘sanction’ or ‘criminal charge’ or the distinction between different fields of law or between positive and negative obligations?
  • What is the quality of legislation? To what extent does it limit and structure discretionary power?

Prof. Lorna Fox has agreed to deliver the keynote talk at the seminar. Lorna Fox is Professor of Law at Essex Law School and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. She published, among many others, the well-known book Conceptualising home: theories, laws and policies, and her research applies policy-oriented, socio-legal and theoretical analyses to housing.


Date:              01/06/2022 – 02/06/2022

Location:       Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Prof. Michel Vols, PI of the ERC funded project EVICT, ‘The Impact of the International Right to Housing on National Legal Discourse: Using Data Science Techniques to Analyse Eviction Litigation’, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Lieneke Slingenberg, PI of the NWO funded project ‘Human Rights Law, Non-Domination and Spatial Restrictions for Refugees’, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


Programme TBA

June 1st, 2022

  • Location: Zoom / Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Nieuwe Universiteitsgebouw, NU4A51
  • Organised by: EVICT / VU

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