Property disputes result in violence

By Kim Ngan   December 22, 2022 | 03:40 pm PT
The land fever in recent years has helped many people improve their lives but also led to more family disputes in which people have assaulted, even killed others.

Recently police in the northern province of Hung Yen prosecuted the case of three daughters burning down their mother’s house over inheritance.

The daughters wanted a piece of land in a prime location owned by their mother but she refused to hand it over.

The mother and two daughters died while the third is in hospital.

Courts across Vietnam handled some 15,000 land disputes in 2017 and 2018, and that skyrocketed to 537,000 in 2020-21.

The aftermath of a fire incident in Hung Yen Province, set by three women against their mother over inheritance dispute. Photo courtesy of the Trung Hoa Commune Peoples Committee

The aftermath of a fire incident in Hung Yen Province, set by three women against their mother over inheritance dispute. Photo courtesy of the Trung Hoa Commune People's Committee

The office of lawyer Nguyen Van Quynh, a member of the Hanoi Bar Association, has been getting more and more cases of land disputes and conflicts between family members.

"The number of cases our office gets is increasing every year, sometimes doubling," Quynh said.

Relationships being lost in the fight for land has become a common occurrence in recent years.

Hoa’s family is one such.

Unemployed due to the pandemic and unable to make ends meet in HCMC, Hoa returned to her hometown and sought to get a share of the land her parents had left.

She said: "When our parents were alive, they said their agricultural land measuring over two acres will be divided evenly among us four siblings. But now our eldest brother wants to keep 70% of the land while the rest of us have to share the remaining 30%."

She said her brother, now the official owner of the land, earns a lot from cultivating it and its value has risen by many times from a dozen of years ago, and so he wants to keep the bigger share.

"In the past our land was in a reclaimed area with very low prices. But it is now a tourist area with a pagoda nearby. So, if the land is divided evenly, each of us will get over VND2 billion (US$83,333), even VND3 billion."

The dispute has been festering, and so whenever the siblings meet they argue loudly and even fight. Now the four hardly consider each other siblings.

"On the death anniversaries of our parents we gather in our hometown, but when the land issue comes up, we quarrel with, even fight, each other. The younger brother accuses the elder brother of being greedy... The love between brothers and sisters is gone. In the last two years, there have been no anniversaries, no family reunions."

The six siblings in Kim Tri’s family in the northern province of Nam Dinh have been stuck in a land dispute that has led to a lawsuit since late 2019.

She said her father passed away without leaving a will and her mother inherited a piece of land measuring nearly 800 square meters. Then the eldest son and his wife forced their mother to sign documents to transfer most of the land with houses on it, excluding a chicken coop, to them.

Furious with her eldest brother, Tri filed a lawsuit against him, and since then the family has been divided.

To pursue the lawsuit over the last three years Tri and her four other siblings have had to repeatedly take leave from work to travel between to Nam Dinh, and borrow money to cover the travel costs and hire a lawyer.

"So far the costs have exceeded VND100 million ($4,167), and our life has turned upside down," Tri bemoaned.

More land disputes, more severe family conflicts

With more than 22 years of experience in civil and criminal proceedings, lawyer Nguyen Van Quynh of the Hanoi Bar Association found that when land prices rise, disputes over property not only increase in number but also in intensity.

Land disputes have become more and more frequent and complicated due to higher prices and vague laws. Some serious disputes have led to criminal cases involving intentional injury, even murder.

Quynh said: "Land laws are amended every 10 years, and during the interim years many complicated problems arise due to inconsistent laws and lack of land-use plans."

The increasing number of disputes, many of which take months, even years, to be settled by clarifying the origin of land, conciliating between people involved in the disputes, appraising land prices, and conducting trials mean judicial agencies are overworked.

"A judge in a district court has to deal with hundreds of cases a year," Quynh pointed out.

Duong Cong Lap, chief justice of the southern Bac Lieu Province, said: "There has never been a time when so many disputes have taken place as now. Until 1985 there were almost no civil cases involving land disputes that courts had to handle. Land disputes have increased since 2010, with disputes involving families and clans becoming common."

Duong Thi Thu Ha, deputy chief justice of Can Tho City, said she has felt heartbroken many times at seeing families being devastated by land disputes.

Lawyer Dang Van Cuong, head of Chinh Phap Law Office, said murders of family members over land disputes stem from lack of awareness of the laws.

Another factor is that many grassroots officials lack knowledge of legal issues and so people do not know whom to turn to when a conflict arises, he said.

Quynh said people involved in property and inheritance disputes need to be calm and look to someone with legal knowledge such as a lawyer for help.

Le Minh Hai of the Hanoi Criminal Police Department said when a dispute or conflict is detected in a family, local institutions such as conciliation boards, neighborhood groups, women’s unions, and youth unions should immediately try conciliation and advise people on how to resolve the problems under the law, and not let it prolong.

The justice system should constantly seek to improve the quality of conciliation boards and legal aid centers, he added.

Meanwhile, going to court, waiting for results, mortgaging assets to pay court fees and lawyers, and going to court has become a vicious cycle that has made many families like Tri's increasingly desperate.

"Our brothers and sisters used to live very harmoniously... The family is now broken," Tri said. "We are waiting for the court’s verdict. If the verdict is not satisfactory, I will appeal."

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