You Can Buy Land. But Here's Why You'll Never Really Own It.

VICE News’ “Complexify” series takes you down the rabbit hole, to show you why just about everything is more convoluted than you think.

Call it the American Dream. Or the Australian Dream. Or the New Zealand Dream. They all embody the ideal of owning a house and the land it’s built on.

In this cratered economy, that might seem like a very distant dream for many young people, but if you’re keeping that dream alive, there’s something you should know: It turns out that in most places you don't actually “own” the land you “own.” 


Property owners around the world must pay taxes every year for the privilege of occupying what’s supposed to be their own land. Skip your property taxes, and you may find your American (or Australian) Dream ends with a rude awakening.

Even for those landowners who dutifully pay their taxes, governments reserve the right to step in and assume ownership of private property at any time through the power of eminent domain.

In this way, it might be more accurate to say that rather than owning land, landowners are merely borrowing it from the national government, and paying every year for the privilege. In some places, like China and North Korea, there’s not even the illusion of ownership — the government owns all property outright.

In this episode of Complexify, we wade deep into the murky waters of property law and custom to discover that while it sounds nice in theory to own some land, there may not be any such thing.