Governing land tenure and particularly ownership rights to land in post-socialist Russia is a long-term process that involves changes in norms, rules and administrative procedures. We analyse the land privatization reform in the context of evolving institutional limitations caused by the discontinuity and inconsistency of reform: domination of common (shared and joint) ownership, complications related to registering titles and lease agreements, and weakening of the state's role in controlling sustainability of land use. The agricultural districts of the Kulunda region of Altai Krai serve as a case study to show that, because of the development of informal local practices, the institutionalization of land relations is increasing as the investment appeal of the agricultural sector grows. Materials from in-depth interviews, participant observation, informal conversations and interactions, stakeholder workshops and statistical reports, are used to analyse existing practices in the interaction of the key actors in processes that are shaping up the current land tenure system. We discuss implications of the identified inconsistencies for long-term stability of the land tenure system and sustainability of land use. We will show that insecure formal land rights and the partly not functioning governance system pose high risks for innovation in agriculture. We observe that informal practices emerge to fill the flaws in the formal institutional arrangements, thereby increasing the relative stability of the resulting land use model. However, the overall prevalence of informal practices hinders the ability of actors to make long-term plans based on reliable expectations, raising equitability concerns and undermining efforts to shift to new technologies.