According to Law no. 151/2019, informal settlements are “groups of at least 3 housing units spontaneously developed, occupied by individuals or families who are part of vulnerable groups defined according to the Social Assistance Law no. 292/2011, with the subsequent modifications and completions, and who have no rights over the land they occupy. Informal settlements are usually located on the outskirts of urban or rural localities, include improvised dwellings, made from recovered materials, and / or dwellings made from conventional building materials, and by their localization and socio-demographic characteristics generate exclusion, segregation and social marginalization. By being located in areas of natural risk (landslides, floods), biological risk (garbage dumps, landfills, contaminated sites and the like) or anthropic risk (safety or protection areas as defined by Seveso objectives, of technical-public infrastructures and so forth), some informal settlements endanger the safety and health of their inhabitants.
“In Romania, the phenomenon of informal housing is significant in terms of the number of people affected, but especially due to the lack of reaction of the last 25 years – both from central authorities and at the level of communities, where measures can be taken to solve individual or collective cases. There are several types of exclusion that have led and still lead to informal housing in both urban and rural areas, in Romania, with serious consequences on the basic rights of people.”
Although informal settlements are generally perceived as a purely residential issue, it is important to note that there are many other problems associated with them, such as: lack of identity documents, lack of access to infrastructure, lack of access to social services, overcrowding or the fact that the phenomenon is increasing by the day.
According to the current legislation, without property papers, a person can only get a temporary identity document valid not more than one year, after which it must be renewed.
The consequences for those who don’t have identity papers are serious: without them, the risk of social exclusion increases, and any relationship with public authorities becomes very difficult. It is a legal practice that during an interaction with various local public authorities, citizens are assigned based on the address on their identity card.
In addition, because many informal settlements are located outside the city and therefore are not included in the general and zonal urban plans, access to public infrastructure is more difficult and often absent: the authorities have no tools to prove the need of expanding the road infrastructure, water or sewage systems, etc., and people in such a situation have no paper to claim their rights. Access to electricity is also very difficult as any contract with electricity suppliers requires a property document.
People living in informal settlements can’t take a job legally and can’t sign any formal contract, which leaves them without adequate protection against abuse. In addition, people who can’t get identity papers will not benefit from any kind of social service (social assistance, education, medical assistance), except for emergency medical assistance.
Restricted access to social services makes the situation worse for these people, who often live in overcrowded conditions, which increases the risk of illness and/or injury. According to European statistics, Romania has the highest overcrowding rate in Europe (48.8% compared to 23.7% in Lithuania or 2.4% in Cyprus) and is ranked first regarding severe housing deprivation (DSL) – a benchmark for poor housing conditions.
investments in providing infrastructure and services to those living in informal settlements, to increase the quality of their life and to reduce the risks to health and safety (eg. access to water and sewerage, road infrastructure, security and regularization of the banks of water, waste collection etc.). These measures are described in the literature under the term “slum upgrading“, especially designating modernization measures of the infrastructure;
“formalization“ programs that involve the elimination of the state of informality of land and constructions through support in the granting of property titles, authorizing constructions etc. These types of measures have the role of increasing the security of employment, of facilitating the provision of identity documents and accessing services, allowing taxation, evaluation, commercialization and insurance of the property etc. Theoretically, the formalization process would also involve correcting the urban planning of the area by eliminating the constructions non-compliant or located in unsafe areas, widening the road width to allow safe access etc. actions that in practice probably involve the most difficulties in implementation.
The most common public policy measures used to address the urban problems associated with informal settlements in the UNECE region:
Action guides for regulating informal settlements dedicated to local public authorities and communities living in informal settlements are available here.
If you know of any informal settlement in Romania, please fill out this form. In-depth knowledge of the scale and effects of the problem is the first step for identifying the adequate solutions.
You can find more information about informal living in Romania in the Resources section or here.
If you have any further questions about this phenomenon or additional information which could help clarify the issues mentioned above, please do not hesitate to write to us .