Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a country located in Western Asia bordered by Syria to the north and east, Israel to the south and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea to the west.
The country counts over 6 million inhabitants, 89 per cent1 of which living in urban areas concentrated in and around the main cities and coastal towns.
Lebanon has a total land area of 10,230 km2 which can be classified as built-up land (approximately 6 per cent); forest, shrubs and vegetation (approximately 56 per cent); and agricultural land (approximately 32 per cent)2 .
The dire socio-economic conditions of the country, compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Beirut Port explosion, and the Syrian crisis have severe implications on land tenure and land management issues. Currently, Lebanon hosts more than 1 million Syrian refugees scattered throughout urban and rural communities. Since 2011, the influx of refugees increased together with the demand for access to shelter and basic services, putting additional pressure on the availability of affordable housing.
The Lebanese Constitution of 1926, as amended, is protective of land rights. However, it does not provide for the rights to water, to adequate housing, to be protected from forced eviction and does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex. It is important to mention that unlike in most other Arab states, the Shari‘a (Islamic law) is not held up as the main source of legislation in the country.
Among the laws and regulations related to land tenure, some still refer to the Medjelle and Ottomans laws, others exist in the civil code or have been issued separately, more recently. The lack of a land policy in Lebanon is affecting the relevance of some land-related legislation, and often results in overlapping rules and regulations hampering land governance in the country.
Concerning the country’s institutional framework, the Lebanese government is organized into 21 ministries under the Prime Minister (Law no. 247 of 7 August 2000), ten of which engaged in various land-related functions which they exercise through their sub-entities such as the General Directorate of Land Registration and Cadastre under the Ministry of Finance; the Directorate General of Urbanism and the Directorate General of Roads and Buildings under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport; and the Directorate of Geographic Affairs of the Lebanese Army under the Ministry of Defense, among others.
Private sector, civil society organizations, academic institutions and religious communities also play a key role in the Lebanese land sector. However, limited availability of data and access to information hinder the coordination between the various land stakeholders impacting their capacity to work together effectively to deliver good land governance.
In Lebanon, land is governed through a plural legal system composed of statutory, customary, religious and informal land rights and systems, each with specific norms and legislations or unwritten practices.
The formal land tenure system is based on the Civil Law from the French Protectorate era and the private ownership. The Land Property Code enacted by the Decree 3339 of 12 November 1930, as amended, identifies five different or real estates:
• Mulk: private property
• Amiri: state owned land with disposition rights for individuals
• Metrouke murfaka: land owned by the State but subjected to a right of collective use
• Metroke Mehmi: land that belongs to the State at the governorate or municipality level and which is part of the public domain
• Khalie Mubah: amiri land that has not been inventoried and delimited and that is considered to be state private property.
The customary land tenure system origins from the mussha’a, a special type of land tenure whereby land is held, as a unit, by a corporate body, such as a village3. The communal land was then divided in individual shares among the members of the community who retained independence on the use of the land. Nowadays, the effects of such tenure system can be observed in the long narrow fields and fragmented holdings characterizing the rural landscape. Although French Mandate Authorities planned to eliminate communal land, customary use rights continued to be practiced in most villages . As a result, the present status of musha’a land as an independent category in the land registry is not clear: it covers part of Amiri land (State owned land) part of Metrouke murfaka land (land owned by the state but subjected to a right of collective use) and all Metroke Mehmi land (land that belongs to the state at the governorate or municipality level, and which is part of the public domain) . Another form of customary land tenure is the agricultural land use rights known as “Muzara’a wa Musaqat” (cultivation and watering) whereby the landowner allows the farmer to cultivate his land in exchange of a share the harvest. The Lebanese Code of Obligations and Contracts provides that al-Muzara’a and al-Musaqat are governed by special texts and by the local custom without the need of a written agreement among the parties.
The religious land tenure system, referred to as “Awqaf” or religious endowment land, comprehends land that has been entrusted to a religious organization for a charitable or social purpose. The awkaf institution (Muslim and Christian) plays an important role in the land market as they own about 30 per cent of the private land in Lebanon and offer many possibilities like land concession and rental. Recent research on wqaf lands in Beirut region, used for agriculture, reported that agricultural waqf are more resilient- than private lands- to urbanization5 .
The informal land tenure system includes land with varying degrees of recognition and legality: “regularized” and un-regularized squatting, unauthorized subdivisions of formally owned land, unofficial rental arrangements, etc. In some cases, several forms of tenure may co-exist on the same plot with parties entitled to different rights6 .
The land registration system is based on a parcel-based digital cadastral system that registers land and property, operated by the General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre. Most built up urban areas have already been demarcated and registered however, as only legally recognized and properly demarcated properties can be registered at the Real Estate Registry, customary land rights and informal settlements are not registered in the land registry .
Several legislations regulate land valuation in Lebanon: the basis for property valuation is found in the Property Tax Law (or Built Property Tax), in the Expropriation Law and in the Rental law. Further, each year, the Ministry of Finance establishes the estimated value of land and immovable property in the various regions of the country which serves as the minimum threshold for the application of taxes and levies payable at the time of their transfer.
The property tax ranges from 4-14 per cent of the property value8 and it is applied to all properties located within Lebanon but hospitals; properties owned by the government, religious authorities, political parties and foreign governments; agricultural land; and urban non-built-up properties.
The capital gains tax on sale of property is assessed based on the difference between the property price at the time of ownership and its price at the time of disposal or sale, with a tax rate of 15 per cent in accordance with the Lebanese income tax law, as amended. Additionally, upon registering the transfer of property ownership, six per cent of the purchase price is levied (transfer tax) along with other applicable fees and taxes (stamp duty). In case of inheritance, testacy, gifts, etc. the transfer tax is applied on the net value of the share of heirs and tax rates vary according to the degree of relationship between the heir and the legator .
Overall, there’s limited access to land value-related information in the country with implications on, among others, revenues and sustainable land management, leaving space for corruption and often resulting in the registration of lower-than-market values.
Through the years, Lebanon’s urbanization was not sustained by specific state policies or plans. This impacted the provision of basic services and the implementation of efficient mobility plans, particularly in urban areas, and the management of natural resources. To respond to this issue, the National Council of Scientific Research (CNRS) has developed a land use classification system3, which consists of seven main categories (Atlas du Liban):
● Build up areas: 650 km2, 6 per cent;
● Agricultural use: 3.300 km2, 32 per cent;
● Forest and other woodland: 2.600 km2, 25 per cent;
● Shrubs and Vegetation cover: 3.200 km2, 31 per cent;
● Wetlands: 5 km2, 0 per cent;
● Open land and rocks: 500 km2, 5 per cent;
● Water bodies: 15 km2, 0 per cent.
The urban exploitation of the green cover in Lebanon continues beyond the classified land with urban encroachment on rangelands, forests, and other green cover at the expense of further water depletion10 . To combat the mismanagement of land use and protect the non-renewable land resources against overexploitation, different ministries have developed strategic plans for managing natural resources. The 2015-2019 Strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture aims at improving food security, the socio-economic revenue of the agricultural sector and the sustainable management of natural resources through good land governance, investment in the fisheries and aquaculture, and modernization of irrigation systems. The 2015-2025 National Forest Program, financed by GIZ with technical help from Centre Tecnologic Forestal de Catalunya, aims at restoring degraded lands and increasing the Lebanese forest cover while meeting the ecological, social and economic needs of sustainable forest management at regional scale. Finally, the 2003 National Action Program to Combat Desertification of the Ministry of Agriculture aims at providing a guiding framework for the long-term implementation of the UN Convention Counter Desertification in Lebanon to combat desertification, mitigate the effects of drought and alleviate poverty11 .
The country doesn’t currently have a unified national framework and a dedicated institution to guide the planning process at the policy level. The main tools related to planning and planning frameworks are the National Physical Master Plan of the Lebanese Territory, the Physical Master Plans and the Strategic Plans, while planning functions are shared among different ministries and public agencies: the Council for Development and Reconstruction, the Directorate General of Urbanism, the Higher Council for Urban Planning and at times the municipalities.
With respect to the land and housing market, the pre-Civil War boom of construction has been followed by a period of stagnation during the war (1975-1990) where prices increased but never decreased. After the war, the country witnessed again a construction boom in all its areas, and especially in Beirut, until the late ‘90s.
Nowadays, the Lebanese property market remains depressed and aggravated by defaults on housing loans, freeze in transactions, increasing requirements of fresh/cash dollar payments, lack of capital inflows, etc. The housing market is the only mean to access housing as there is no public/affordable housing in the country. In 2011, the Ministry of Social Affairs developed a national strategy for social development which aimed at improving the living conditions in informal settlements by providing housing grants, and improving basic infrastructure, sewage systems and the overall physical conditions of buildings.
Land expropriation - According to the Expropriation Law, the State can expropriate land in the public interest against the payment of a prior and equitable compensation. Compensation is a financial award established by the Expropriation Committee which can be appealed to the Appeal Committee by the affected party. The decisions of the Appeal Committee are binding on both parties. Despite the Lebanese law of expropriation only compensates those with legal rights, mechanisms exist to protect various forms of customary rights adjusted on a case-by-case basis by the Expropriation Committee (World Bank, 2014).
Land-related disputes are quite common in Lebanon, particularly, but not only, ownership disputes over non-surveyed areas, inheritance issues, encroachment and illegal occupation of private or state-owned properties. The formal justice system is the main mechanism for resolving land-related disputes. It includes the Single Real Estate Judge; the First Instance Courts Ruling on Real Estate Matters; the Conseil d’Etat which has limited jurisdiction defined by the law in land expropriation cases; and the Judicial Committee Ruling on Housing Land Disputes established to investigate disputes arising from the implementation of the Housing Law of 1965.
Currently, the legislative landscape is evolving towards the use of arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADR) to reduce cumbersome court’s litigation procedures and to resolve disputes equitably and expeditiously. Lebanon does not have a special Arbitration Code, the provisions related to arbitration (domestic and international) are imbedded in the second chapter of the Lebanese Code of Civil Procedure. Mediation, by tribal and religious leaders, is commonly used to resolve land disputes in non-surveyed and unregistered land held informally.
The Lebanese Constitution guarantees equality before the law, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex. Land laws are gender neutral, but sex discriminations can be found in other laws impacting housing, land and property rights. This is the case of the Nationality Law of 1925, as amended, which denies matrilineal granting of the Lebanese nationality. Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men cannot automatically pass their land and housing to their children due to the principle of international reciprocity. In addition, the personal status laws do not recognize the value of women’s unpaid domestic labor nor the concept of marital property depriving women of their share of family property upon divorce .
Despite according to article 7 of the Constitution, women have the same rights as men to conclude contracts and own and administer property, due to customary norms, land is often registered under a male relative name to keep wealth in the family (even if contradicting inheritance rules). The lack of a formal registry on informal land makes it difficult to know how much land and property is owned by women: at the end of 2021, according to the General Directorate for Land Registry and Cadaster, 1,055,482 real estate properties (17 per cent) were owned by women, 1,950 809 properties (32 per cent) by men and 3,174 072 properties (51 per cent) did not have data registered to either sex . No official data is available regarding the amount of land that is registered in women’s name in the country however, it is known that women represent only 7 per cent of the agriculture land holders taking decisions over resources and managing agricultural holdings.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, the large influx of refugees in Lebanon has been adding pressure on the already limited availability of public services, infrastructure, and affordable housing in the country leading to an increase of rent costs. This has affected the land tenure security of local communities and of refugees who struggle to access safe, affordable and adequate housing. Most Syrian refugees have been securing shelter through informal markets which provide a higher level of responsiveness, flexibility, and relative affordability compared to the formal one. However, this often underlines poor housing quality, insecurity of tenure, and other health and environmental shortcomings, such as land degradation, soil and water contamination. Further, in many cases, the domestic law along with international standards protecting the housing, land, and property rights of Syrian refugees were not upheld leading to repeated threats and harassment, and even forced eviction, against the refugee community (UNHCR and UN-Habitat, 2014).
Long before the influx of Syrian refugees, the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been denied housing, land and property rights. The majority of Palestinian refugees live in 12 refugee camps mandated by UNRWA, while a sizeable minority lives in informal settlements in rural areas. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are deprived of the right of ownership to housing and land and, in 2001, the amendment to the law of foreign acquisition of property in Lebanon, officially prohibited them from acquiring real rights through inheritance or sale . Over the years, refugees have acquired some informal property rights where they live, but they are not protected by the law (NRC, 2014).
In 2020, UN-Habitat and the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) conducted a baseline study, as part of a broader regional work, aiming at reviewing land-related policies, laws, and institutional frameworks in the country. The study analyses and assesses existing land governance mechanisms and gaps to inform decision-making processes and stakeholders in the land sector.
Since 2020, UN-Habitat and the Global Land Tool Network, together with the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) are carrying out multiple activities looking at the role of land tenure security and good land governance for combating land degradation and climate change, with specific focus on pastoral land and rangelands. Activities included a regional study, and two Expert Group Meetings one on land governance and climate change, and one on pastoral and range lands.
Finally, different activities aiming at protecting the housing, land and property (HLP) rights of displaced people are being carried out in the country. Among them, in May 2021, UN-Habitat and the Global Land Tool Network conducted in Beirut a training on the use of the Social Tenure Domani Model (STDM) for mapping and georeferencing the HLP rights of displaced people. The training was attended by land and GIS experts, programme managers, researchers, community mobilisers and enumerators from UN-Habitat Regional Office for the Arab States, UN-Habitat Lebanon, UN-Habitat Iraq, GLTN and their partners. Further, under the GIZ-funded project “Housing, Land and Property (HLP) Rights Challenges Faced in Syria by Refugees Currently Living in Lebanon – Humanitarian Response”, UN-Habitat and the Global Land Tool Network published a report and a policy brief. Titled Promoting and Protecting Housing, Land and Property Rights of Syrian Refugees Living in Lebanon: Towards an Integrated Response, the report analyses and identifies trends and patterns of HLP issues that Syrian refugees currently residing in Lebanon face in their areas of origin in Syria and looks at solutions offered by the country’s current legal and institutional framework. The policy brief outlines a set of recommendations geared towards preserving the HLP rights of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon back in Syria.
The information contained in this country page is based on an unpublished Legislative and Administrative Land and Property Rights Framework Assessment carried out in 2020 by the Arab Land Initiative, GLTN and UN-Habitat through an independent consultant. The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this page do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area, or of its authorities, or concerning delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries, or regarding its economic system or degree of development. The information may contain some inaccuracy introduced by the data provider(s) and/or by the Arab Land Initiative team and do not necessarily reflect the views of UN-Habitat or its Governing Council
1 United Nations (2022) UN-Water SDG 6 Data Portal. https://sdg6data.org/country-or-area/Lebanon
2 National Council of Scientific Research (CNRS) Lebanon, Atlas du Liban.
3 Makzoum Egoz and Pungetti (2011) The Right to Landscape: Contesting Landscape and Human Rights.https://books.google.ca/books?id=3mWkxPJJ2o4C&pg=PA230&lpg=PA230&dq=customary+land+rights+lebanon&source=bl&ots=T6NFzHR3tF&sig=ACfU3U0S2hGJ0N7kafqJlLf_6QvNLB577w&hl=ar&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjvzf7Ax_rpAhU3JjQIHeJqDFUQ6AEwBnoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=customaryper cent 20landper cent 20rightsper cent 20lebanon&f=false
4 Bilal Shheita (2014) Rationalizing the use of common lands and its implications for the development process in Lebanon. Lebanese Army Magazine issue no. 87. https://www.lebarmy.gov.lb/
5 Carine Lteif (2019) L’Agriculture de La Région Beyrouthine au Prisme des Terres Waqf (Liban). Une Géographie Foncière des Logiques Agricole. Doctoral thésis. http://www.theses.fr/2019MON30006
6 Geoffrey Payne and Durand-Laseerve Alain (2012) Holding on Security of Tenure - Types, Policies, Practices and Challenges. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Housing/SecurityTenure/Payne-Durand-Lasserve-BackgroundPaper-JAN2013.pdf
7 UNHCR-UN-Habitat (2014) Housing, land & property issues in Lebanon Implications of the Syrian refugees crisis. August 2014. https://unhabitat.org/housing-land-and-property-issues-in-lebanon-implications-of-the-syrian-refugee-crisis
8 MoF (2007). Citizen’s Guide to Built Property Tax- The Ministry of Finance -January 2007. http://www.institutdesfinances.gov.lb/?s=Built+property+tax
9 Deloitte (2020) International Tax – Lebanon Highlights 2020.
10 Masri T, Khawlie M, Faour G, (2002) Land Cover Change Over the Last 40 Years in Lebanon. Lebanese Science Journal, Vol. 3, No.2, pp. 17-27. http://lsj.cnrs.edu.lb/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/masri2.pdf
11 MoA – GTZ (2003) The National Action Program to Combat Desertification. https://knowledge.unccd.int/sites/default/files/naps/lebanon-eng2003.pdf
12 UNDP (2018) Lebanon Gender Justice and The Law. https://www.undp.org/content/dam/lebanon/docs/Womenper cent 20Emp/Lebanonper cent 20Countryper cent 20Assessmentper cent 20-per cent 20English.pdf
13 Information shared in email from the General Directorate for Land Registry and Cadaster, 8 September 2021.
14 FAO (2020) Gender and Land Rights Database. https://www.fao.org/gender-landrights-database/en/
15 UNHCR and UN-Habitat (2014) Housing, land & property issues in Lebanon Implications of the Syrian refugees crisis. https://unhabitat.org/housing-land-and-property-issues-in-lebanon-implications-of-the-syrian-refugee-crisis
16 Law no.296 of 3 April 2001 related to “Amending Certain Articles of the Law Implemented by a Decree no. 11614 of 01 April 1969 (Non-Lebanese Acquisition of Real Estate Rights in Lebanon).