Analysis & Features


A new HLP law, intended for 2020 but released in January 2021, prolongs by two years an existing lease extension system for public sector property tenants. The law raises questions over potential conflicts of interest between Syrian businessmen looking for cheap urban property, and governmental and public sector tenants hoping to hold onto property they have long rented at low prices.


Damascus and its outskirts have recently witnessed a rise in trading of subscription ledgers for social and cooperative housing projects. Rising real estate prices are likely driving this real estate-adjacent market, most of which is centered around properties that have yet to be built, and are part of larger construction projects some of which may not be carried out in the foreseeable future.


Informally built neighbourhoods surround the city of Damascus, forming a belt that extends from Barzeh to Qaboun and Jobar in the north, and from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp to the Tadhamon neighbourhood in the south, reaching the foot of Mount Qasioun in the west. There are nearly 18 of these informal neighbourhoods, taking up around 2,000 hectares of land. They were home to some 1.2 million people before 2011.


The issue of the so-called “Amiri lands” has returned to the fore in Syria amid talk that the state could take back such properties from people who were forcibly displaced to opposition-held territory.


There are numerous social housing projects in Syria built by state-owned entities and established with the aim of supplying low- or mid-priced housing. These projects have assumed various descriptions and designations and are subject to various legislative terms and conditions. Usually, the General Housing Establishment (GHE), affiliated with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, takes on the largest share in implementing Syria’s social housing projects.


At the end of January 2021, the Syrian president issued Law No. 1 of 2021, granting the General Housing Establishment (GHE) an annual loan not exceeding SYP 5 billion to help fund the construction of so-called “labour housing.”


Decree No. 66 of 2012, which provides for the establishment of two new development zones in Damascus, specified who would be able to obtain alternative housing and rental allowance as part of ensuing construction plans.


Over the course of 2020, three rounds of public auctions were held to invest in lands belonging to people displaced from formerly opposition-held territory in rural Hama, Idlib and Aleppo governorates. The first was to invest in the pistachio crop, the second for olive picking and the third for cultivating wheat. These auctions were organised by the security and military committees in these governorates, through the government-affiliated Farmer Leagues.


The final months of 2020 saw an unprecedented rate of demolitions targeting so-called “building violations” in the form of an organised campaign that began in Hama governorate, and then expanded to Damascus Countryside, Quneitra, Suweida and Deir-ez-Zor. Even during the winter holidays, provincial councils mobilised and continued to demolish buildings into New Year’s Eve, implementing what pro-government websites described as “strict orders” from a high-level political authority.


The most recent law concerning the removal of so-called “building violations” is Legislative Decree No. 40 of 2012, which has been increasingly relied upon in recent weeks in campaigns carried out by local administrative units and municipalities to demolish buildings in violation of the construction code.


According to the Real Estate Development and Investment Law No. 15 of 2008, so-called “real estate development zones” include properties both within and outside zoning plans. The properties needed to set up a real estate development zone are secured either from state property, from the properties of the local administrative unit, the private properties of development companies or from the properties of private individuals.


Zoning plans transform makeshift, informally built neighbourhoods into organised areas—that is, from zones with building violations where construction is not legally permitted into areas where builders can obtain construction permits, allowing for services to be delivered. Zoning plans are the mechanism through which the laws and decrees of real estate development and zoning are implemented, and informal residential areas are eliminated.


Syria’s Counterterrorism Court was established byLaw No. 22 of 2012, with the purpose of implementing the provisions of Anti-Terrorism Law No. 19 of that same year. The court is politically biased and directed at retribution towards opponents of the regime, generalising them as “terrorists,” which allows it to confiscate their properties.