Admist rising real estate prices, increasing pressure of housing needs for displaced people in the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES) areas, and the continuous migration of locals abroad, residents seek to document their property ownership by all available means. However, they face obstacles, mainly due to the judicial overlap and the dual authority in charge of real estate documentation between the Damascus government and AANES authorities.
Many people in AANES areas are trying to legally confirm their ownership by filing lawsuits to ensure sales contracts in the civil courts, for the first instance, under the Ministry of Justice in the Damascus government. In this case, the buyer only receives a judicial decision to confirm ownership if the property is located within a zoning plan. The Damascus real estate authorities refuse to carry out lawsuits to confirm sales contracts for properties outside of zoning plans and require a letter from the concerned municipality indicating the zoning nature of the property and the Building Code followed. The issue is that the zoning nature of most real estate areas outside major city centres is still undivided commonly owned land. As in all informal settlements, landowners sell parts of it or properties built on it as undivided shares.
For example, Ahmad has a property in Hassakeh city and confirmed the sales contract by a judicial decision from the civil court of first instance. However, when Ahmad sold his property, the same court refused to confirm the previous sales contract it had issued and asked the new buyer to obtain a letter from the municipality showing the zoning nature of the property. When he consulted the municipality, they conducted a topographic survey of the property and compared it with their zoning plans. They found that the house was built on land designated for a public park.
Expropriation for public benefit is exclusively done by a decision notified to the stakeholders, with appropriate compensation. However, in Ahmad’s case, the land was noted in the zoning plan to be a public park, but in reality, it had not yet been expropriated for that purpose. As long as the expropriation decision is not issued, the property is not public property. Therefore, ownership can be confirmed until the expropriation decision and compensation are properly issued. However, this did not happen with Ahmad, as his lawsuit was dismissed, and he could not confirm the sales contract and transfer the property to the new buyer.
Similarly, Khaled, who purchased a house and filed a lawsuit to confirm the sales contract, was surprised to find that the land on which the house was built was designated in the zoning plans to construct a school. Khaled could not confirm his ownership in this case, so he cancelled the sales contract and recovered what he had paid to the seller.
In reality, as long as there is no restraint on the disposal of the property, the owner has complete freedom to manage it. Even if the property is marked for public benefit in the zoning plans, the court should decide to confirm the sales contracts and not deprive the buyer of confirming their ownership, even if the implementation of those plans is delayed. Over the past years, the war has disrupted the urban expansion of cities and towns and, therefore, the process of updating the zoning plans and aligning them with realities on the ground.
Khalil said that when he filed a lawsuit to confirm the purchase contract of his house, which he has owned for decades on the outskirts of Qamishli city, the civil court of first instance demanded a legal permit. A legal permit is an administrative process conducted by the Directorates of Agriculture and Real Estate Affairs if the property is located in border areas outside of zoning plans. In this case, prior security approval endorsed by the Ministries of Defense and Interior is required.
As Khalil discovered, the Qamishli municipality had been planning to zone that area for years and included it in the city’s zoning plan. However, administrative procedures delayed this process, and then the war led to the neglect of the issue, which remains unresolved.
On the other hand, the AANES does not recognise the allocation documents issued by municipalities affiliated with Damascus after 2011. Allocation documents are akin to property ownership documents issued by municipalities to confirm the ownership of properties, most of which are lands sold to individuals. The AANES bases this on the regulations and systems law it issued in 2014 to regulate urban development. AANES authorities require those wishing to obtain an allocation document to purchase properties from its municipalities exclusively.
This applies to properties sold by municipalities affiliated with Damascus after 2011. The AANES does not recognise the allocation documents issued by the regime’s municipalities after 2011 and asks their purchasers to obtain new allocation documents from its municipalities. The buyer is forced to repurchase the property from the AANES’ municipalities. A buyer may choose not to do this, but if they want to build on the land, they must, again, obtain a construction permit from the AANES’ municipalities. Here, it becomes necessary to obtain an AANES allocation document.
Another Qamilshi resident, Layla, said that she obtained an allocation document from the Damascus-affiliated Qamishli municipality in 2013. However, in 2023, the AANES’s municipality asked her to repurchase the same land from them to issue a construction permit for it.