CLA News / The UN Habitat’s Urban Law Initiative by Anne Klen


Urbanisation poses new legal problems every day. There is an urgent need for better legal frameworks in cities facing major implementation challenges. Since 2012, UN-Habitat has been working with academic partners on an Urban Law Initiative to further academic knowledge and to develop a joint research agenda in urban law. Partners of the initiative include the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London; Fordham Law School, New York; University of North West, South Africa; University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, among others.

This initiative has involved a wide variety of research, convening and training activities. For example, UN-Habitat and its academic partners have organised yearly Urban Law Days since 2012. The Urban Law Day is a specialized forum aiming to bring together a multidisciplinary circle of academics and practitioners interested in urban legislation, including planners, architects, policymakers, economists, urbanists, and lawyers. The Urban Law Day aims to facilitate discussion, exchange views, networking, and the presentation of new research findings and emerging issues. The latest Urban Law Day was organized on the World Cities Day in October with Fordham Law School, New York.

The initiative has delivered several capacity development and training modules. For instance, between 2014-2019, UN-Habitat and IALS organized yearly five-day learning events in London, UK for UN-Habitat staff and partners focused on building drafting skills to improve the quality of urban legislation. This five-day learning event has concentrated on familiarizing participants with the difference between policy and legislation, helping them understand what good urban legislation is, and developing skills to identify legislative problems. It has also aimed to introduce existing methods and tools for evidence-based policy and law-making and present basic drafting principles.

The initiative’s work on research has centered on comparative analysis and research on urban law. For instance, UN-Habitat, Fordham Law School and IALS have worked on comparative analysis in urban law to identify best practices and emerging and innovative pro-poor approaches. In 2019-2020 UN-Habitat and IALS undertook a comparative study on rental regulations and produced a publication Rent Regulations in Kenya, Lagos-Nigeria, Botswana, and South Africa: A Comparative Analysis. This document examines the legal framework regulating the urban landlord and tenant relationship in Botswana, Kenya, Lagos State- Nigeria, and South Africa. In 2020-2021 UN-Habitat and IALS, at the request of the Kingdom of Lesotho, undertook a comparative analysis on housing law and finalized a forthcoming report, Comparative Analysis of Housing Acts in Five Countries: Bolivia, Botswana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa. The package includes a policy options document, bridging research and data with advocacy and policy. By leveraging comparative analysis of housing legislations, the report proposes policy recommendations to the government of Lesotho in addressing the increased demand for urban housing, improving residents’ quality of life, enhancing services accessibility, and improving mobility and security of tenure while recognizing the environmental impact of climate change.

Ms Anne Klen
Policy, Legislation and Governance Section
UN Habitat

Read the report of the recent Urban Law Day organised by UN-Habitat and the Fordham University Urban Law Centre (US) to celebrate World Cities Day (31st October 2023).The theme for 2023 was “Financing Sustainable Urban Future for All”. A panel of urban legal and fiscal scholars discussed the role played by urban legislation in setting the rules of the game for fiscal sustainability in cities.