Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-05-19-1
On November 11, 2009, North Korea enacted a ‘Real Estate Management Law’ consisting of six sub-sections and 47 articles. The new law revised the terms for sale and use of real estate, banning the unapproved rental of property and allowing the state to collect a ‘usage fee’ (rent). In addition to the law on real estate management, immediately after the North’s currency reforms at the end of last November, the government enacted or revised a total of 11 laws related to the economy, including the Food Administration Law, Agricultural Law, Goods Consumption Standards Law, and the Labor Law. This raises the question of whether the regime is strengthening its economic control mechanisms.
According to the Socialist Property Management Law of 1996, only ‘enterprises, institutes, and groups’ were allowed the use of properties, but the latest Real Estate Management Law includes individuals as those allowed to use property.
North Korea’s KCNA reported the enactment of the new law on real estate in the middle of last December, but only revealed that “basic issues of real estate’s registration and inspection, use and collection of rents are regulated,” while the more detailed contents were revealed in a three-part series of articles on the Real Estate Management Law that ran in the Minju Chosun, which was published by the Cabinet and Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly between March 17 and April 3.
In North Korea, where all real estate is property of the government, the sale or rent of properties between individuals or groups is, on principle, not possible, but after the July 1, 2002 Economic Management Reform Measure, the regime’s inability to provide housing led to significant growth in the size of the black market for real estate.
On a related note, during the 4th session of the 11th Supreme People’s Assembly, which opened in April 2006, a campaign to assess properties throughout the entire country and establish a system of rent was revealed, after which ‘property usage fees’ were included in the annual national budget.
Ultimately, the enactment of this law on real estate strengthens the state’s control over the socialist economy and over the country as a whole. From South Korea’s perspective, it appears the integrated land tax, property tax and other similar systems are North Korea’s attempt to prepare an important legislative precedent for expansion of the state coffers.
However, the portion of the newly-enacted Real Estate Management Law that really catches the eye is the authorization of ‘individuals’ to rent real estate. While it takes on the form of property leasing, it is also an expanded measure in that it permits individuals to use socialist property. Giving individuals the right to use real estate increases productivity and helps ease the North’s current economic woes.
According to the Minju Chosun, the new law “says one must not buy and sell real estate, and the nature and use of property cannot be changed without permission from the management authorities, so that property cannot be handed over to or lent to other organizations, enterprises, groups or individuals.”
The law also stipulates that a property rents will be paid to a ‘State Pricing Establishment Organization’, and that the intended use for the property must be registered, after which rents will be set in either goods or currency, and if rents are not paid in currency, they can be paid in kind.
In particular, this law stipulates, “Land is not to be abused or used in a way that makes it barren,” and that any historic or revolutionary landmark, or idolation of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il must be thoroughly protected.
Through a special measure by the Cabinet, a National Real Estate Management Committee was established, and management offices and chains of command were established for the cabinet.