One of the most important differences between the various Cadastral Affairs directorates in opposition-held parts of northern Aleppo governorate appears to be the level of preservation of real estate ownership databases. Azaz city in particular is a successful model, as the opposition managed to protect paper real estate archives there and store them in a secure place after capturing the city in 2012.
More than one million people live in Azaz and its immediate surrounding countryside, according to official estimates by opposition institutions.
According to an official in Azaz’s Cadastral Affairs directorate, until mid-2012 Azaz was the headquarters of land registries for 148 real estate areas, including surrounding cities and towns. Most important of those real estate areas were Maraa, Akhterein, Souran, Tal Rifaat, Nubl and Al-Rai. The Cadastral Affairs directorate in Azaz contained 2,060 land registries, with a repository of real estate contracts from 1997 to 2012 and carried out 3,000 to 5,000 transactions annually. Agricultural properties made up about 80 per cent of the region’s land area, while residential properties were around 18 per cent and industrial properties were two per cent.
From 2012 to 2018, the opposition attempted to continue the work of Cadastral Affairs in Azaz, but this was unsuccessful due to bombings and battles with the regime and pro-Iranian militias near the town of Nubl, as well as battles with the Islamic State, which held large parts of the area until 2017. During that period, residents were unable to register real estate sales, purchases, and transfers of ownership.
The Cadastral Affairs directorate in Azaz was reopened in 2019, and the paper archive transferred to it. In past years, the building remained under the control of armed opposition factions, but in 2019 the local council of Azaz took over the building and carried out rehabilitation work with Turkish support.
The Azaz Cadastral Affairs official told The Syria Report that residents today can carry out real estate transactions and register them with the directorate, including confirmation of new sales contracts. According to the official, Turkish funding facilitated the records and archives, as well as converting paper documents to digital files.
He added that the Cadastral Affairs directorate receives legal claims related to real estate disputes, in coordination with the Azaz City Court. The directorate building contains a large hall and five offices, with 10 employees and a director.
The directorate collects fees for real estate transactions that it documents, with different prices for different types of real estate, such as agricultural, residential, and commercial properties. The fees are calculated based on the area of the property and are sent to the Azaz Local Council’s treasury. Displaced people living in Azaz must obtain security approval from the opposition-run Military Police and General Security in order to register real estate transactions.
Azaz’s Cadastral Affairs directorate has not applied all the new laws issued by Damascus regarding real estate, most notably Decree No. 15 of 2021, which regulates the collection of real estate sales taxes according to the “current value” of properties, and Law No. 17 of 2021 on real estate service fees.