Officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, Syria is inhabited by over 18 million people and it borders the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east and southeast, Jordan to the south, and Palestine and Lebanon to the southwest. Syria’s 185,180 square kilometers’ surface is covered by meadows and pastures (44%), arable land (33%) and forests (3%), while the rest is non-arable land.
Overview of Syrian’s land-related situation
Land tenure – There is a wide range of land tenure rights in Syria. Registered land ownership rights are considered the most secure form of land rights and can be held individually or in group. Ownership rights registered in the land registry are commonly known as “the green tapoo”, while ownership rights registered in the temporary registries are meant to secure tenure rights for buildings with building permits but still under construction. Additional types of rights are existing like the long-term land rights on state land and short-term land use rights.
There are many situations where land tenure rights are not registered due to administrative or legal barriers or because the properties are in informal areas. Where there are many common evidences are used to support the land and property rights like: judicial ruling, power of attorney, this has been widely used as substitution of, or in support to, sale agreements, in registered ownerships or informal settlements.
Land value and Tax – A land and property taxation system exists in Syria in both urban and rural areas, and it is based on the nominal value of properties, which ranges from 50 to 75% of the market value. The Ministry of Finance is in charge of keeping land taxation registries at the governorate and district levels. These registries cover lands, built, and non-built properties and include a detailed description of physical characteristics, actual use, and estimated value calculated based on criteria and principles set by the law and the subsequent implementation instructions. Land taxation records are used for taxation purposes only and do not substitute the land registries, except in cases of registration of commercial use rights for the premises.
Land use – Planning practices in Syria focus on master planning of cities and villages, while land use planning outside urban areas has been limited to defining rules and restrictions on allowed uses of lands and designating protected lands and buffer zones where development is prohibited by the ministries concerned. The land use planning capacity at the national level is inadequate and outdated. Existing plans are not enforced, and regional land use plans only exist for some areas though even these are rarely updated. Adequate and updated urban plans for the main and rapidly growing urban centers exist and their level of enforcement is significantly higher than for other areas, however the challenge of informal settlements has not been adquately addressed through urban law and policy issued prior to the conflict.
Land development – Land development takes place primarily by implementing masterplans through issuing building permits, monitoring building activities and implementing public infrastructure and facilities. The property development process in Syria is considered quite difficult because of bureaucratic constraints, and the limited instruments for the public to acquire land for public use: land readjustment interventions are years long and for this reason have limited implementation, and expropriation is usually considered unfair for the communities affected, to the point that it is considered one of the causes of informal developments in Syria, as people prefer to sell their lands into the informal markets rather than be expropriated by the government with meager compensation.
Land dispute resolution – Syria has a dual judicial system, with separate secular courts, which hear civil and criminal matters, and religious courts. The existing civil court system is considered well-structured and mostly designed to resolve conflicts and disputes over individuals’ land rights and parcel boundaries. Sharia courts perform important functions related to land management: for example, among others, they determine inheritance shares in accordance with Islamic Law and issue inheritance documents. The current judiciary system does not have the capacity to deal with the very large number of disputes expected to arise from the waves of mass displacement caused by the war. Alternative dispute resolution systems and transitional justice mechanisms will be required.
In 2020, UN-Habitat conducted a baseline agreement, as part of a broader regional work, aiming at supporting the development of housing and land-based analysis studies within the existing legal and instructional framework. Some of the key documents produced are the following: