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China’s bizarre Nail Houses – when owners refuse to move, construction projects build around them

Chinese nail house in middle of highway - Wenling, China, 2012

The Chinese call them “nail houses”, a home whose resident has refused to leave in order to make way for new construction. Rather than cease development, builders simply build around the home, often using innovative, but visually unpleasant, means to continue construction unabated. The term nail house is a pun coined by construction workers and alludes to nails that are stuck in wood and cannot be pounded down with a hammer. The nail houses that are left behind often create a very unusual sight, either an eyesore or in some cases, a modern work of art.

The nail house situation gained prominence after recent changes in China’s laws regarding private ownership of land. More recently, the People’s Republic of China began to accept private ownership of real estate, including the still-controversial notion that owners are free to realize profit when their land becomes more valuable due to planned developments, or even simply not to sell. The profit motive contributed to discontent among the people over accusations of illegal land seizures by developers and corruption by complicit government officials. In March 2007, the People’s Republic of China passed its first modern private property law. The law prohibits government taking of land, except when it is in the public interest. Thus, when an owner refuses to sell to make way for new construction, builders simply build around them (and attempt to make the owner’s life as miserable as possible).

Several nail house cases have generated worldwide attention. In one famous case, a nail house remained even after a shopping mall was built around it. The private residence now sits in the courtyard of the mall.

In another notable case, a family (among 280 others at the location of a six-story shopping mall project) refused for two years to vacate a home their family had inhabited for three generations. Developers cut their power and water, and excavated a 10-meter deep pit around their home. The owners broke into the construction site, reoccupied it, and flew a Chinese flag on top.

Another nail house gained worldwide recognition after it ended up in the middle of a new road in Wenling, Zhejiang Province. The elderly couple had refused to sell the property for the price offered by the government since 2001. Eventually a major two-lane road to a new train station was constructed around the house. Pictures of the home went viral on the Internet and were widely published by Chinese media.

Check out the pictures of unusual nail houses in the photo montage below (including some unusual homes that construction workers built around in the United States).

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