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Cardozo Law Review



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Alternatively glamorized and reviled, Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns, known as “favelas,” have become a fixture of the city’s architecture and life. It is estimated that about a million and a half people reside in these informal settlements that are scattered in the center and outskirts of Brazil’s second-largest metropolitan area. Operating in the shadow of the law and lacking formal ownership title, favela residents have constructed an intricate set of informal rules to buy, sell, rent, and bequeathe property that is often administered by the residents’ associations of individual neighborhoods, which also assist in mediating related conflicts. While largely untested legal mechanisms may now exist in some favelas to obtain title, obstacles such as the cost to do so as well as ignorance of the legal system — combined with a relative reliance on the current informal scheme of acquisition and dispute resolution — stand in the way of residents’ achieving formal ownership. This Article argues that while the informal framework has proved fairly efficient at managing everyday life in the favelas, the large-scale removals that the government has implemented in Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games have upset the balance. Due in part to individuals’ lack of legal title, the government has been able to apply a high degree of discretion over the conditions under which it has exercised its eminent domain power, including when it came to deciding which abodes would be taken, what level of compensation people should receive, and how favela residents would be relocated. This Article shows how even robust extralegal frameworks can lull people into a false sense of security about their rights, which governments may exploit to dispossess the poor and vulnerable when it is politically desirable to do so. This should serve as a renewed call to simplify the titling process for individuals and interrogate the forces that oppose it.

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