What Is a Nail House?

Nail houses are holdouts that refuse to sell and make way for new real estate development in China.
Nail houses are holdouts that refuse to sell and make way for new real estate development in China.

A nail house is a neologism used in China to refer to homes that belong to residents who are reluctant to move in order to create space for the development of real estate. The residents are referred to as “stubborn nails.” One of the major reasons why the "stubborn nails" refuse to move is they find the compensation insufficient. Despite their refusal, real estate development continues anyways. As a result, their houses are left uniquely standing out, and hence referred to as “nail houses.”

Historical Background

Private ownership of real estate property in China was abolished during the Communist era. Since then, real estate is officially owned by the central government. However, individuals can purchase a leasehold on a property in China, which can range from 40-70 years. Since the government determines what happens to property depending on the national interests, private citizens could be forced out of their homes as long as it is in the interest of the public. In the late 1990s, private developers started venturing into the construction of hotels, private property, and shopping malls in urban areas that were densely populated. Their engagement in real estate development was stirred up by free markets and a strong Chinese economy. The residents who lived in these construction sites were offered low compensation and were displaced. Residents who resisted were forced out by court orders, corrupt local officers, or scared away by hired thugs. A private property law was passed in March 2007 by the government of Peoples Republic of China, which made it illegal for the government to take land unless it was considered to be of significant public interest. This law made strengthened the position of those who owned nail houses.


A nail house existed at a “snack street” in Chongqing. The owners of the house refused to relocate to allow for the construction of a six-story shopping mall. According to the family, they had lived in the home for three generations. Despite intimidation, such as denying them water and electrical utilities, the owner refused to vacate the land. The owner of the nail house threatened to attack anyone who attempted to evict him. In 2007, the owners eventually agreed to a certain level of compensation after previously refusing an offer of 3.5 million Chinese yuan ($453,000 USD).

Another nail house is found in Changsha. The owner refused to take a lump sum of compensation, and a mall was built around the house. Currently, the Changsha nail house is situated in the mall’s courtyard. Another nail house belonging to an elderly couple can be spotted in Wenling, Zhejiang Province. The nail house is now situated in the middle of a new road, after refusing to vacate the land while the government built the road leading to a train station. However, in 2012, the couple accepted a compensation of $41,000 and vacated the property.


Nail houses received a lot of publicity in the Chinese media. For instance, a blogger referred to the Chongqing nail house as the “coolest nail house in history.” The became a national sensation, and was was pick up by every media outlet. However, the government banned newspapers from reporting the incident.


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