Calls have circulated in recent days on social media and in some official news outlets calling for the government to seize absentee homeowners’ properties to distribute or lease them to people impacted by the February 6 earthquake. Businesspeople and officials have made these calls and urged the government to seize properties without the consent of the owners.
They have also demanded the issuance of a new law that would allow the state to expropriate absentee-owned properties, seize all properties unoccupied by their owners or confiscate any homeowners’ additional uninhabited properties. These demands are based on the now-defunct Tenancy Law No. 111 of 1952 (which was repealed by Tenancy Law No. 6 of 2001) as well as Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983.
In both cases, these demands appear unrealistic and would violate the property rights of absentees. Syria’s new tenancy law and the expropriation law do not include provisions allowing seizing a property from their owner and giving it to another person for any reason. The recent demands also go against the 2012 constitution, which in Article 15 says that it protects private property rights and only allows expropriation under certain conditions and procedures.
Tenancy Law No. 111
Tenancy Law No. 111 of 1952 entitled local administrative units’ social affairs departments to lease properties without the owners’ consent. These departments had the task of registering and documenting lease contracts between lessors and renters. Under Law No. 111, they used to operate under the supervision of the judiciary, headed by the relevant governorate’s magistrate. But later, these departments came under the supervision of the governor or relevant local mayor, in accordance with Law No. 187 of 1970.
Law No. 111 also allowed the social affairs departments to register vacant residential properties for rent, and required owners to register such properties with the social affairs departments within 15 days of their vacancy. Punitive penalties included fines and imprisonment for up to one year for residential building owners and apartment owners who failed to notify authorities of any property vacancies or otherwise violated the law’s provisions – in practice, however, these provisions of the law were rarely implemented.
Finally, Law No. 111 delegated the task of searching for vacant properties and registering and leasing them (without owners’ consent) to local mukhtars, police officers and social affairs department employees. Under the law, tenants who vacated a home were required to inform their local social affairs department within 15 days.
In 2001, a new tenancy law, Law No. 6, was issued, overriding Law No. 111 of 1952. A number of other tenancy laws followed it, the last of which was Law No. 20 of 2015. In these new laws the social affairs departments in local administrative units no longer had the power to lease properties without their owners’ consent. Law No. 20 grants these departments power only to register and document lease contracts. As a result, lease contracts became enforceable deeds that allowed lessors to turn to the court and evict tenants upon the expiration of the lease.
In short, using a now-defunct law to justify the takeover of residential properties in order to lease them to earthquake-affected communities is not legally valid. Such a solution would also violate the provisions of the laws currently in force.
Expropriating closed or vacant apartments in order to lease them also violates Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983. Under this law, expropriation may be done for projects that are for the public benefit, such as roads, barracks, airports, railways, hospitals, schools, agriculture, irrigation, oil, energy, mineral wealth, security and defence. Expropriation of privately owned buildings for purposes of leasing is not on that list of potential projects.