Legal Resources: Brazilian Housing Glossary for English-speakers, Emphasis on Favelas

Aforamento: Annual rent and occupancy rate, in enfiteuse cases (see enfiteuse below); the tax paid to the ‘official’ property owner.

Aluguel social: Social rent; Rio de Janeiro Social Assistance and Human Rights Secretariat (SEASDH) benefit for families affected by catastrophes and disasters, such as strong rains in 2013. Designed to be temporary, it has also been used when communities are removed because of implementation of urban revitalization projects (such as in Complexo do Alemão, Manguinhos e Pavão-Pavãozinho cases). [From January to April 2015, over 12,000 families in the state of Rio de Janeiro received aluguel social from SEASDH, with monthly value varying between R$400 and R$500.]

Arrecadatório: Revenue collection.

Antecedência: Notice of intent to vacate premises.

Bica d’agua: water spigot (relevant as a symbol for Governor Brizola’s water spigot populism in the 1980s when he would provide water spigots and other material upgrades through dedication ceremonies in favelas). Source: “Hard Times in the Marvelous City.”

Cobertura: Penthouse (often penthouse condominium).

Concessão de uso (título de concessão de uso): Concession of use (title). A document that is similar to a long-term lease; gives residents use rights without land ownership; rights to their homes without flat-out ownership that would allow them to sell the land. Sometimes this strategy is used with favela residents who have occupied public property so property remains public while residents receive some degree of land security.

Comissão de luz: Light commission. A small group of residents that maintained favelas’ irregular electric hookup, charging residents monthly service fee. A kind of neighborhood association. Mediated disputes in the favela and emerged from early process of community mobilization but devolved into conservative rent seeking junta by early 70s. Source: “Hard Times in the Marvelous City.”

Conjunto habitacional: Housing project. 

Consolidação: Consolidation; another way of saying ‘upgrading’ (making infrastructure improvements to favelas), but this time with an implication of a process directed from within favelas and merely facilitated from without. Source: “Hard Times in the Marvelous City.”

Cortiço: Tenement house, literally beehive. Area of concentrated, high density urban housing where many people lived in poverty with poor sanitation and hygiene conditions. Cortiço houses were typically divided into small rooms and rented. They originated in São Paulo during the late 1700s. In Rio, most were demolished by the government in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Source: “Hard Times in the Marvelous City.”

Demolição: Demolition.

Desapropriação: Expropriation or Eminent Domain. When a private home is seized by the government for public use.

Especulação imobiliária: Real estate speculation.

Enfiteuse: A system in which some property owners in Brazil have to pay small annual property taxes to former Portuguese royals and nobles that are secondary perpetual owners of the land (they do not have the right to buy and sell, but have the right to collect tax from occupants for perpetuity).

Espigões: Large shafts, typically for water management.


  • Theresa Williamson (urban planner):
    • Neighborhoods that emerge from an unmet need for housing.
    • Established and developed with no outside or governmental regulation.
    • Established and developed by individual residents (no centralized or outside ‘developers’).
    • Continuously evolving based on culture and access to resources, jobs, knowledge, and the city.
  • Bryan McCann (historian):
    • Defining a favela is more about its history–beginning as unplanned and unserviced settlements nurturing informal real estate market and progressing through stages of consolidation and diversification without ever fully being incorporated into the surrounding formal city. Source: “Hard Times in the Marvelous City.”

Gambiarras: Hacks for utilities (see RioOnWatch stories on water, electricity and Internet access).

Imposto Predial e Territorial Urbano (IPTU): Rio property tax: urban land and building tax, applies to urban real estate.

Imposto sobre a Propriedade Territorial Rural (ITR): Rural property tax, applies to rural real estate.

Imposto sobre a Transmissão de Bens Imóveis Inter-vivos (ITBI):  Title transfer tax on goods and real estate; all land purchased in Brazil is subject to this tax, which is 2% of the value of the purchase; inter vivos is Latin for ‘between the living,’ used to refer to the transfer of goods during one’s lifetime.

Indenização: Indemnity compensation: security or protection against loss or financial burden. Can refer to a compensation made to residents in the case of eviction.

Locação social: Social location, or rent subsidy with a more permanent intention than aluguel social.

Loteamento: Subdivision. Subdivisions share with favelas: historical/initial absence of legal property title, self-built housing, growth of informal real estate markets sheltered by political protection. Subdivisions differ from favelas: houses often look more finished, owners often eventually bought lots and got titles, often recognized formally by the government. Source: “Hard Times in the Marvelous City.”

Mutirão: Tupi-guarani indigenous term for collective action.

Palafitas: Blockhouse (house on stilts in water).

Posse (título de posse): Proof of possession (title).

Promessa de compra e venda: ‘Promise of purchase and sale,’ or certificate of possession. Part of the Brizola Cada Familia Um Lote (Each Family A Lot) program in the 1980s, the idea was for the Housing Secretariat (SMH) to work with favela resident associations to create registries of favela lots and then deliver this certificate of possession. Afterwards, holders of this certificate would make small monthly payments, capped at 1/10 of monthly minimum wage, for four years. At the end of four years, the state would deliver full, legal title to property, with favela associations intermediating between residents and the Housing Secretariat. However, by the end of the Brizola administration, only 16,000 certificates had been delivered, none had been converted into full titles, and few ever would. Source: “Hard Times in the Marvelous City.”

Reassentamento: Resettlement. Typically used in a Rio context to talk about resettling people from areas thought of as ‘informal’ by the government, such as a favela home without a title, to public housing.

Remoção: Eviction.

Remoção compulsória: Compulsory eviction. When families are removed from homes due to default and new transitional living situations are not provided.

Remoção branca: Literally “White removal,” local term for gentrification; the process by which rising values inevitably force the poorest residents to move elsewhere.

Remoção relâmpago: Lightning eviction, or surprise eviction without warning; can imply demolition.


  1. Upgrading: when an area receives infrastructure.
  2. When rural areas become urban (the way one would use the word urbanization in English, but the first meaning is more common in Brazilian Portuguese).

Título: Property title.

Usucapião: Adverse possessionOccupants of land eventually acquire property rights if possession is public, continuous, and exclusive (possession can’t be shared with anyone, including nominal holder of title to land); and taken without permission of titleholder and characterized by effective claim to ownership against that titleholder.