Chinese authorities hope to calm anger at forced demolitions of homes with rules designed to curb abuses by developers and demolition crews that have led to poverty, unrest and even deaths.
The country's full-tilt urban development has led to the relocation of millions of people. But complaints of inadequate compensation - or none - are common.
A spate of high-profile cases has increased anger at the system. A Chengdu woman died after she set fire to herself last November as an eviction crew hired by local officials beat her family. Local media reported today that a 68-year-old man in Jiangsu, eastern China, set fire to himself after police questioned him about his son's protest against relocation.
The draft rules, issued today by the state council - China's cabinet - would ban developers and demolition crews from forcing people out through violence or by shutting off water and electricity. They would also demand that compensation be set at market price and that where homes are judged "old and dangerous", 90% of residents would have to agree to projects. Demolitions would be halted if occupants brought lawsuits. At present, they can go ahead even when challenged.
But there are potential loopholes in the rules and enforcement will be at least as important as the changes on paper, experts warn.
The move comes after officials met law professors from Peking University, who had warned that regulations breached the constitution, encouraged developers to adopt abusive tactics and were leading to social unrest.
One of the professors, Shen Kui, said: "I'm basically satisfied; this is progress and there are some big changes." He said he believed the rules, still in draft form, would take effect within months.
"I believe the regulations will decrease the new cases where you get violence, but of course it also depends on a change in attitude from local governments … Courts [also] need to be more independent when dealing with these cases."
He warned that some problems remained. The regulations applied only to cities, not the countryside, and related rules allowed for land to be seized in some circumstances even if the public interest justification did not apply.
Although people can own homes in China, the government still controls the land. Local authorities are keen to promote development to bring jobs, economic growth and tax revenues. Relocated residents often complain that those spurs for new construction are compounded by corruption, with officials accepting bribes from developers to approve schemes.