Ethiopian Urban Land Lease Law (the previous!)

Still I am not getting any good news about the publication of the newly adopted urban land lease law. I will be posting on this new law the moment I get access to it. The following material,  taken from Land Law Teaching Material, an official text book for all Ethiopian law schools, is a must-read to get a glimpse of the nature, content and scope of Ethiopian urban land lease law. It thoroughly discusses and analyses the Lease Holding of Urban Lands Proclamation No. 272/2002 (which is amended or may be totally repealed by the new law.)

The material is prepared by :

Daniel W/Gebriel


Melkamu Belache

Under the sponsorship of:

 Justice and Legal System Research Institute

The material (taken From Chapter Three) is presented here as it is.

3.4 Urban Land Lease

3.4.1 Scope

Today, in Ethiopia, lease is the “cardinal” and “exclusive” land-holding system to transfer urban land to users in accordance with the master plans of each urban area. Hence, unlike the housing sector, urban land is governed by a special legislation, namely, the Lease Holding of Urban Lands Proclamation No. 272/2002. And yet the civil code may be applied whenever necessary. The scope of application of the law is “to an urban land held by the permit system, or by lease-hold system or by other means prior” to the coming of the proclamation “as well as to an urban land permitted hereafter.”

3.4.2 Leasehold right

The leasehold right is a right to use the land for fixed period of time against payment of agreed amount of money. The assumption is that any person who fulfills the requirements is entitled to get land by way of lease. Pursuant to article 4 of the urban landholding lease proclamation, an urban land shall be permitted to be held by lease:

a)      in conformity with plan guidelines where such – a plan exists, or, where it does not exist, in conformity with the law which Region or City government makes, as the case maybe, and

b)      on auction or through negotiation ;or

c)      according to the decision of Region or City government.

The Amharic version of sub-c is different from the English one in that the former is applicable to urban dwelling houses. Means the regional government may approve directive which allows urban dwellers to get land for housing free of charge, without negotiation etc. This is said because in practice this is happening in all urban centers of the country. The lease regulation of the city of Addis Ababa and other regions clearly show that urban dwellers may get a fixed land for residential houses free of charge. This is one character this lease legal framework shares with the proc. 47/1975.

Once a person gets land by one of the three mechanisms, he/she is entitled to get leasehold title deed. This is a certificate that proves the lessee’s rights to the land. What kind of rights does this title deed provide? Once if a person buys the lease right s/he has the right to construct a building of different nature (residential, commercial, industrial) as per the agreement and the master plan. Hence the right of use and enjoyment is one right conferred on the lease right holder. Another right is that the lease right can be inherited, donated, or mortgaged provided that the beneficiary’s rights are limited by the period of the lease term. Finally, the lease can be sold or exchanged to any person. Article 13 of the proclamation provides the kinds of rights. As per sub-article 1 of this article “any lease holder may transfer, or undertake surety on (mortgage), his lease-hold; and he may also use it as a capital contribution to the amount of the lease payment he has made.”

It must be noted that this right shall be enjoyed so long as some form of construction/activity has been taken place; in other words bare land is not subject to all the above rights. This point is also understandable from the reading of Article 12 and Article 13(2) (3) of the proclamation. Article 12 requires the leasehold possessor to “begin to use the land for the prescribed activity or service within the period of time set…” The time set for commencement of activities may vary from 18-30 months as the case may be as emphasized in different municipal regulations. The second point is that the concept of real estate that we discuss in the beginning, that land constitutes the ground and the building, is reemphasized once again under article 13.  This article in short says that mortgaging a use right of land includes a building constructed on it and the accessories thereto, and conversely the mortgage of a building and its accessories includes the use right of the land. Similarly, sub 3 of same article says that land right and the construction upon it are inseparable in that during default of payment both rights should be transferred to the creditor.

As one can clearly observes that leasehold right provides all the rights and privileges that private land can do. The only difference is the degree of security and restriction. Concerning this point, Farvacque and Mc Auslan give interesting explanation:

Essentially, the crux of the legal difference between freehold and leasehold is that the freeholder (private owner) is bound by the laws of the land and nothing else. Whereas the leaseholder is bound, in addition, by the terms of the lease laid down by the landlord. The leaseholder is then less free and unrestricted in his or her use of land than is the freeholder (p.199.)

As we shall discuss below even private ownership is not an absolute one, it is subject to different limitations, such as town plan, public interest, environment etc. The clear difference between the private ownership of land and the leasehold right is the time element, in that the latter is limited by time as we shall discuss it later on. The limitation in time may create some how insecurity on the lessee and as a result inhibits the lessee from making further investments. On the other hand it can be said that for those lease agreements taking longer years, such as 99 or 70 years, people may not be inhibited from making additional investments.

Leasehold tenure-ship and its implication

Land tenure could be expressed as the possession and use of land by individuals or groups for limited or unlimited period of time. According to Oxford dictionary (1998), tenure is defined as the condition or form of right or title, under which real property is held. Ethiopia has endorsed different tenure systems.

In theory, public leasehold does appear to be a compromise because the system allows the state to remain as the landowner and lease the development. The use rights of land go to private individuals. However, in practice, it does not matter who the landowner could be. It could be the government or private landlords who have real control over land but what matters would be depending on how lease conditions are constructed (Bourassa and Hung Hong 2003).

Chen (1990) has pointed the comparison of the land policies of China and western countries. He has stated out that,

What distinguishes the private ownership and public ownership over land is their differing point of departure. In the west, where land has long been privately owned, the state exerts control by regulation: in China, where the point of departure is state ownership, similar results are achieved in a more proprietary manner- through the use of leasing contracts.

What is being reflected by Chen (1990) sounds quite right for countries in transaction. What was discovered one among the most reasonable route to the transaction into a vibrant land and housing market has been the adoption of a public leasehold policy. This option could be regarded as a transitory alternative to the building of a well functioning market economy. This is what Ethiopia is trying to achieve. In particular a shift of land holding from strict public ownership to semi-private or to full private would bring social unrest. It needs to consider the steps performed a country like China where there was a profound communist regime and a country with a highest population of the world. Moreover, China’s experience in this regard is often cited as one of the best practices in stimulating the urban land and housing sector along the free market lines. Thus, Tung Pi Chen’s conclusion in this case is an additional testimony to the success story.

As Knaap (2003) have described regarding the separation of use rights and land ownership.

In the current property rights regime, use rights for specified period (eg 40 to 70years) can be obtained from the state through the up-front payment of land use fees. The fees are determined by the location, type and density of the proposed development. This separation of land ownership and use rights allows the trading of land use rights while maintaining state ownership of land.

Knaap and his colleagues have point out three advantages, which the Chinese government has achieved. First, market mechanisms could help and guide the allocation of land resources; second, land use fees would provide local government with a new resource of revenues, and third, by retaining state ownership, social and political conflict would be minimize.

Theoretically, leasehold would bring social, economical and environmental benefits. All would agree with the idea of the economic advantage of land.

Economists frequently refer to land along with labour, capital, and management as one of the basic factors of production. Land as property has legal connotations and could be described as individuals or groups have been exercise rights of ownership and use they hold in land. And from stand point of the average investors, land must be purchased or leased like other capital goods, so land could be described as capital.

(Raleigh Barlowe 1958)

….Where land is state owned, the mere advantage of the local governments is, they can reserve land for housing construction and infrastructure developments. In addition, the purpose of land lease would be reserving land for residential uses with no cost. Otherwise the high cost of land would affect the low and middle income groups. For instance in Canberra Australia, among all purposes of land leasing, reserves land for buildings, foreign embassies and other public infrastructure appears to be most achievable (Bourassa and Hung Hong 2003).

3.4.3 Lease periods

As we try to touch it in the preceding part, lease is different from private ownership because its enjoyment right is limited in time. Unlike rural land, urban land is granted to urban dwellers and investors on the bases of restriction. In the current property right situation, use rights are provided for a specific period (it could be for 15 or 99 years) obtained from the landowner who shall be the state through ground rent payment. Therefore the landownership and use rights are separated and make the state out of full control over the land. Article 6 of the proclamation provides different periods of years for different types ground leases.

Art. 6: Period of Lease

1) The, period of lease shall vary depending on the level of urban development and sector of development activity or the type of service and shall have the ceiling of:

  a) In any town:

1)      up to 99 years for housing (personal and leasable), science, technology; research ,and study, government office, non-profit-, making philanthropist organization, religious institution; ,

2)      up to 15 years for urban agriculture;

3)      as per government agreement for diplomatic missions and international organizations;

(b) In Addis Ababa and in a town designated as of the grade of Addis Ababa:

1)      up to 90 years for education, health, culture, sports;

2)      up to 60 years for industry;

3)      up to 50 years for commerce;

4)      up to 50,years for others.

(c) In other towns not designated as of the Grade of Addis Ababa;

1)      up to 99 years for education, health, culture, sports;

2)      up to 80 years for industry;

3)      up to 70yem for commerce;

4)      up to70 years for others.

Students are invited to make more research on what the law means by cities designated as grade of Addis Ababa. It is also a good research area to investigate the different lease regulations issued by the city of Addis Ababa and other regions concerning the ceiling of the lease period and manner of payment, area of land allowed free of charge for residential areas and etc.

Now the next logical question is what will happen after the expiry of the period of the lease agreement? Should the lease continue or be terminated? What will happen to the improvements made to the land? Think about it and compare your guess with what we shall discuss below.

3.4.5 Renewal and Termination of lease permit

Lease holding right may be terminated for good reasons; the state has no right to revoke this right whenever it wishes. Like any contractual agreement the expiry of the lease contract may be a reason for termination of the lease hold right. However, unlike lease of housing, the lessee has a better position. The municipality may not take back the land whether before or upon the expiry of the lease agreement unless the land is needed for public interest based works.

The lease hold possessor has the right to request for renewal of the period of lease agreement, 10 to 2 years before the final day of the agreement.


Art.7: Renewal of Period of Lease

1) Period of lease may, upon the termination thereof, be renewed for the lease-hold possessor as per the agreement to be reached, unless the urban land is wanted for public interest. Where the lease period is not renewed upon termination on account of the land being wanted for public interest however, compensation shall not be paid to the lease-hold possessor.


2) Period of lease shall be renewed for the lease-hold possessor in pursuance with the stipulations of Sub-Article (1) of this Article if only he has applied in ,writing to the appropriate body, to that effect within 10 years and not exceeding2 years before the termination of the period of lease.


3) The appropriate body must notify to the applicant in writing its decision within 1 year after the application has been lodged with it. It shall be deemed as though it has agreed to the renewal if it fails to do so within I year after the receipt of the application

One can clearly see that renewal is the rule. The lease holder must apply as early as possible to secure his/her rights. The municipality is given a maximum of one year to notify its decision to the lessee. The assumption is that unless the ground is needed for more socially advantageous activities (for public interest) the municipality shall renew the agreement. It must also be noted that the terms of agreement especially the rent and manner of payment as well as other conditions shall be based on current conditions. In other words, the renewed lease agreement may not contain similar particulars as that of the expired one.

This approach is also well known in different countries. The reason behind protecting the lease hold possessor is that because of the investments already made on the ground. People may build residential houses, commercial, agricultural, industrial and so on buildings on the ground, and it would be unjust and unfair if the government is going to take back the land just to sale it to another person. This would create insecurity upon lease holders which would again discourage them from making additional investments on the ground land they leased. It is also categorically against the interest of the state for demolition and reconstructing of structures is expensive one. Secondly, people will not build good buildings for fear of losing them.

Art. 15. Termination of Lease-hold and Payment of Compensation

1) The lease-hold of urban land shall be terminated:

(a)    where the lease-hold possessor has failed to use the land in accordance with Sub-Article (1) of Article 12;

(b)   where it is decided to use the land for a public interest; or

(c)    where the period of lease is not renewed

The lease proclamation provides three basic reasons for the termination of the contract. It seems the first and third reasons are happening on account of the failure of the lease-hold possessor him self. Because, failure to commence the activity on the ground within the agreed time and in accordance with the plan and failure to request renewal of the lease agreement are impugned on the lease-holder himself. The second reason is however, accountable to the state, and as a result the lease-hold possessor shall be “paid commensurate compensation” for his lose of the property. In case of the first and third cases however there is no any compensation to be paid.

Expropriation of leasehold right and Compensation

 As we shall dealt it with, when discussing expropriation at the last part of this material, expropriation is one means of land acquisition for the state. It is a procedure whereby the state takes away private owned land property for public interest without the consent of the owner and against payment of fair amount of compensation. The subject of expropriation is not only privately owned land and building but also leased land. The lease proclamation gives hints of such possibilities under articles 7(1), 15 (1) (b), and 16. Expropriation of leasehold land may be effected during the expiry of the lease agreement (7(1)), or before the expiry of the agreement as can be inferred from Article 15 (1) (b), and 16 (1). According to article 7, the state may refuse renewal and take back the land when the land is needed for public purpose. The law also emphases that in such case compensation is not to be paid. Hence we can argue that the taking back of the land doesn’t amount to expropriation. Only leasehold right which is active is compensable. Do you think it is just to deny compensation for the property constructed?

Art 16: Clearance of Urban Land

(1)   The appropriate body may clear and take over an urban land which it decides it is necessary to commit for a public interest by issuing clearance order in writing to the concerned person. It shall also publicize the order through other alternative means.

The point is that where a leasehold right has been taken away by the state for good reasons/public interest (such as to build hospital, roads, schools, etc), the state must compensate the leasehold possessor for the property on the land and the remaining lease rent. Regulation No.135/2007 that provides for “The Payment of Compensation for Property Situated on Landholdings Expropriated for Public Purposes,” under article 13 provides the formula. Now concerning compensation for buildings the amount of compensation should be calculated by taking the following in to consideration:

  • cost of construction ( current value) .
  • cost of permanent improvement on land
  • the amount refundable money for the remaining term lease contract

The leasehold possessor is going to be refunded if he had made full or prior payments the rent.

The fact that lease hold right is a secured one and can give protection to the holder is even more clear when one looks to sub article 2 of article 16 which concerns squatting. That illegal settlers (squatters) may be evicted from the land they hold with out any payment of compensation.

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12 thoughts on “Ethiopian Urban Land Lease Law (the previous!)

  1. Dear, Abrish

    We most Ethiopian are still confused because of unclear urban land lease interest type(Compound or simple
    Because some zone are asking peoples to pay in the form of Compound interest and the other are asking in the form of simple type of interest.
    Please make us more clear
    Thank you!


    If some one gets a 200meter square of urban land by a total price of 400,000 birr and his/her initial payment is 52,000 of the total also propose that to complete the remaining (348,0000) within 40 year.Then what is her/his annual payment

  2. What is the Exact Law in case of investment on farmer land & the Rights of the farmer get from the invester (may be Government or individual ) ?

  3. I appreciate you, on your paper prepared by him self around legal research on land lease in Ethiopia .you have good experience&you continue other legal research……………. finally I NEED from you advice I how tO ellect the topic of legal research

  4. Dears

    my pleasure to thank Mr. Abrham for woderfull analysis. i was looking for infos on land lease in Ethiopia as well in Africa. am going to do internship here in China for a Real Estate company.our land lease policy is almost similar to Chinese one.

    Also i had worked as a real broker(Delala)..”Ashura” locally accepted word for tax on transfer of property from seller to buyer( purchase tax or else.) like 6% for residence and 15% of the deal for commercial one..

    Any body wants to do business with me, happy to work together on marketing,as agent,supplier,etc.

    you guys want to learn master’s?! i can help you for free

    Temesgen Ejigu, skype: temegpa
    (Master’s student,China)

  5. It is really an astonishing document which touches the heartbeats of every body. try to post the reaction of community to the current lease policy briefly please. the new lease policy becomes a bitter pill to swallow for almost all sections of the community especially, urban land owners.

  6. Thanks for the information.

    I am in the process of selling my home in AA and I was told that I have to pay what is called “ashura”, not sure if the spelling is correct. At any rate, I don’t understand what that is? Could you touch on this subject? How is my “ashura” dues calculated? I am a bit perplexed with the amount of fees we have to pay, i.e. we pay 6% of the Sales Price on top of the “Ashura.

    1. As far as I know ashura is a religious term not a legal term. There is no such thing as payment of ‘ashura’ while selling your house.You don’t have to pay anything as a seller of an immovable property unless your contract specifically imposes the duty to pay tax and other encumbrances on the seller. But who told you to pay ‘ashura’? I think that will settle your matter.
      Just contact me on the following address if you need further clarification.
      +251 913 388259

  7. Dear Abrham,

    It is an exellent, informative document. I was not able to undestand the amharic version, but with your writnig, I have a better understanding of the Law. I have two questions:

    1. I heard roumers that If you have an existing property say a 1000 sq.meters, you havee to lease fee for the 500. You arre only allwed 500 under this law.

    2. How does this law affect properties purchase from a Real Estate, such as Country Club Development in Lege Taffo which is under construction and is 1000 sk meteres?

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