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  • Social function
  • in theory, a social function is the contribution made by any phenomenon to a larger system of which the phenomenon is a part (139). In practice, the social function of a thing is its use or application to the benefit of the greater society, in particular, prioritizing those with the greatest need. Thus, the social function of a property, good, resource or service is realized when it is applied to satisfy a general social need or the unmet need of a segment of society. Regardless of the type of tenure, holders of housing or land bear a corresponding social duty to use and/or dispose of them accordingly.

    The 1988 Brazilian Constitution explicitly recognizes the right to decent housing, and provides that property, whether urban or rural, “shall fulfill its social function” (Article 5, §XXIII). Colombia’s 1991 Constitution also recognizes property’s “social function that implies obligations” (Article 58). The Constitution of Bolivia (Article 397(l)), and Ecuador’s Constitution explicitly recognizes property’s social and environmental functions (Articles 31 and 66(26) and 282). Unoccupied buildings or unproductive land, thus, became more susceptible to formal and enforceable transfer to use in the social interest. The Egyptian Constitutions, until 2014, also explicitly recognized the social function of property (Articles 30 and 32 of the Constitution of 1971; Article 24 of the Constitution of 2012). Islamic philosophy, Prophetic Tradition and law recognize ownership, but reserve water, pastureland and fire (i.e., energy) as common entitlement of the people with a social function, restricting their privatization.

    Customary international, including and human rights law, guarantees everyone’s “right to own property alone as well as in association with others” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property” (UDHR, Article 17). However, no universal type or definition of property rights exists, while property rights derive from the contexts of culture and community.A property right is the authority and entitlement to determine how a resource is used, regardless of the party holding that right. Nonetheless, a property right,even a private property right,is not absolute. One of the limits to a property right is the inherent social function of that property, subject to the norms and standards that the society determines.

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