January 25, 2021

‘Owning’ a home in North Korea

Residency rights and restrictions on moving means one all but owns the place

The North Korean law makes it quite clear: It is illegal in North Korea to buy, sell and rent out houses. It is theoretically possible to swap houses within one jurisdiction, but it is still illegal if such an exchange is made to gain any kind of financial advantage for either side.

But in the last 15-20 years this, like many other North Korean regulations, has been honored in the breach. The first sprouts of the North Korean real estate market began to appear around 1990. But from around 2000, the North Koreans began to sell and buy housing with far greater ease. It is a now-universal assumption that housing is something not distributed by the state but to be bought and sold by all with the requisite funds (i.e. the super-rich).