Legislative decrees and laws of property rights in Syria
Since the beginning of 2011, the Syrian regime’s government has issued a set of laws and legislative decrees on properties, real estate, and housing rights that have affected Syrians, especially those abroad. They also affected political opposition figures accused of supporting what the regime calls “terrorism.”
These laws are divided into three sections, including those directly related to real estate and property ownership, creating regulatory zones, removing the rubble, and building violations.
Other laws are linked to the real estate cadastre and property transactions, as well as legislative decrees that do not directly affect the property owners’ rights. Instead, these decrees lead to negative consequences as they intersect directly with other laws.
In this report, Enab Baladi attempts to highlight the most prominent of these laws, depending on a study by judges Khaled al-Helou and Reem Salahi of the “Free Independent Syrian Judiciary Council.”
Legislative Decree No. 66 / 2012
The Legislative Decree No. 66 was issued in 2012. It provided for the establishment of two regulatory zones within the general urban master plan of Damascus city, to develop the informal and illegal housing area (slums) according to detailed regulatory studies prepared especially for them.
According to Decree No. 66, the first regulatory zone includes southeast of Mezzeh of the two real estate areas, Mezzeh-Kafr Sousa.
The second regulatory zone includes south of the southern ring road of the real estate areas Mezzeh-Kafr Souse, Qanawat groves, Daraya, and al-Qadam district.
Within a month of the decree’s issuance, Damascus governorate shall form a committee for property survey and description.
Then, the governorate shall call on the property owners or their relatives to claim their rights within 30 days of the announcement.
Based on the study of the “Free Independent Syrian Judiciary Council,” the decree involved several risks such as the short time limit of 30 days given to property owners to prove their ownership, besides the formation of four committees that violate the standards of fair trial and the sacred right to defense.
In addition, the decree raised the free deductions’ limit set by the administrative units for securing basic amenities (roads, parks, parking lots…), in exchange for the financial and moral benefit of the property owners due to the incorporation of their property into the regulatory zone.
Decree No. 66 also canceled the compulsory distribution of property. Instead, it gave the real estate owners three options of plots allocations, contribution to the establishment of a corporation according to the Syrian company law, or the option of selling in a public auction.
As most lands in the region are small, property owners are unable to allocate plots and because it is difficult for them to contribute to setting up a company, most of them choose to put their properties up for an auction; hence, they become unable to return to live in the area.
Legislative Decree No. 40 / 2012
The decree provided for the demolishing of the violating buildings after its issuance date, regardless of their classification, location, and investment objectives, or demolishing them and removing their rubble at the expense of those who own these properties.
The decree placed a fine that ranges between 2,000 and 10,000 Syrian pounds (SYP( (28 – 142 USD in 2012) per square meter on anyone proved responsible for the violation.
The decree exempted the old violations proven to be committed before its issuing date, which would be difficult to prove in the absence of the right holders and their inability to provide evidence of ownership, according to the study.
Moreover, the seriousness of the decree lies in the fact that it is being used as a tool by the regime’s government to eliminate all violating buildings, even old ones, that are difficult to determine the date of their building, especially in the absence of their owners.
Law No. 23 / 2015
The law was promulgated in 2015 and provides for “organizing the process of land preparation for construction, according to the general organizational chart and the detailed regulatory plan in the regulatory schemes approved by one of the two following methods, the owner’s division of property, and the regulatory planning of the administrative authority.”
However, the problem with Law No. 23 is similar to its predecessor. It lies in the 30 days time-limit given to right holders to claim title to their property after the issuance of the region’s regulatory plan.
In addition, the law provided for increasing the free deduction ceiling by the administrative units to provide basic amenities (roads, parks, parking…).
Law No. 23, enabled the administrative authority to establish a committee for dispute-settlement and establishment of rights; nevertheless, this committee does not respect the fair trial standards and performs an unfair evaluation of land value.
As for the violators who had built on state public or private property, their right is limited to the rubble of their buildings and nothing more, and the value of these “informal” buildings and facilities is not included in the owners’ accounts.
Moreover, Law No. 23 did not recognize the lawful right to alternative housing for the actual occupant of the property.
Law No. 33 / 2017
The law regulates the process of re-issuing real estate documents (cadastre), whether lost, stolen, or partially or wholly damaged during the war.
Political opponents, residents of areas that were outside the control of the regime, and refugees are considered the most affected by this law.
Law No. 35 / 2017
The law provided for the provisional seizure of both movable and immovable assets for mandatory military service deserters. These people failed to pay the 8,000 USD fee within three months of reaching the prescribed age for compulsory military service as by the decision of Syria’s Ministry of Finance.
Law No. 1 / 2018
The law provided for the construction of two campuses along the two water tunnels from the Ain al-Fijeh Spring to Damascus and defined the width of the direct campus of the two water tunnels to the distance of ten meters for each end of the tunnel.
According to the law, the width of the indirect campus of the two water tunnel was set at 20 meters for each end of the tunnel, starting from the tunnel axis, including the direct campus.
The Syrian law defines the Ain al-Fijeh Spring’s direct campus as “the land around the water source, which gives access to the spring for its maintenance, safety, and prevention of water contamination.”
Meanwhile, the indirect campus is identified as “the lands surrounding the direct campus of the water source where certain activities are prohibited to prevent spring pollution and depletion of groundwater.”
These lands often include restaurants, parks, or residential buildings.
Law No. 1 prohibited all of the construction works in the Ain al-Fijeh Spring’s direct campus and the two water tunnels. These works included well drilling, pothole-patching, moving stones, dirt or sand, or establishing stone quarries.
Violators of Law No. 1 provisions shall be punished by six months to one year of imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 Syrian Pounds (SYP = 1,000 USD in 2018).
The law provided for the confiscation of the properties and parts of properties within the direct campus, according to the schemes attached to the law in return for a financial compensation equal to the properties’ real value.
It also includes a retroactive effect, whereby any authorization by any official authority for acts such as the construction of wells, industrial, commercial, agricultural, tourist installations, and roads is deemed invalid and requires no compensation.
The law modified the al-Fijeh and Deir Muqrin towns’ regulatory plans to eliminate the residential areas within the direct campus lands.
Nevertheless, the law allowed the rehabilitation of the houses on the indirect campus of the spring, taking into account the modification of the regulatory scheme.
Law No. 3 / 2018
The law was promogulated in 2018 and provided for the removal of rubble and debris from buildings that were damaged in 2018 for natural or abnormal causes or subject to demolition.
The seriousness of the law lies in the possibility of destroying entire, intact and undamaged real estate areas because they are included in the law, as well as the short 30-days time limit given for moving the rubble and starting the demolition procedure.
Law No. 10 / 2018
It was promogulated in 2018 and has the effect of extending the provisions of Legislative Decree No. 66 of 2012; however, it is more inclusive.
It provides that one or more zoned areas may be established by decree on land subject to local planning regulations within the general organizational plan of the administrative units mandated by the Syrian Ministry of Local Administration and Environment, which can choose any area it wants to impose a new regulatory plan without returning to local councils.
The law was criticized for the fact that it came at a time when more than half of the Syrian people have been displaced from their homes, according to United Nations (UN) statistics.
It allowed the Syrian regime’s government to benefit from property owners’ absence and inability to present the required documentation to confiscate their properties in ways the regime deems “legal.”
The law was met with local and international protest and condemnation, which prompted the regime to issue amendments to the law.
These amendments included prolonging the duration of submitting objection requests and claims of ownership from one month to a year.
They also allowed property owners, who did not submit their objections before the interested judicial committees, to resort to the ordinary court system after the committees finish their work.”
Enab Baladi highlighted the dangers associated with the law in a previous report entitled “Properties Ownership” Law No. 10: Regulation, Acquisition, or Demographic Change.
Circular No. 4554 addressed to Syria’s Minister of Local Administration and Environment
The circular includes, according to the study, adding some cases that require a prior security clearance, such as selling real estate or transferring property deed (houses- shops) in organized or unregulated areas, which means that owners cannot dispose of ownership without obtaining a prior security clearance.
Other laws and legislative decrees have been also passed that do not directly affect the owners’ rights but are indirectly related to the people’s property, especially those accused of terrorism.
Such laws include the Counter-Terrorism Law No. 19 of 2012, Law No. 22 of 2012 (the establishment of the Syrian Counter-Terrorism Court (CTC), and Legislative Decree No. 63 of 2012 (the judiciary police).
The seriousness of these laws lies in freezing the movable and immovable funds of all people suspected of crimes under the Counter-Terrorism Law.
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