Plot owners in Marota City are facing considerable difficulties obtaining construction permits and security approvals. Meanwhile, the Damascus governorate is threatening to implement a law allowing it to confiscate those plots and sell them in public auctions if the owners fail to obtain the permits within specific deadlines.
Decree No. 66 was issued in 2012 to establish two zoned real estate areas in Damascus: Marota City and Basilia City. The Directorate for Implementation of Decree No. 66, an arm of the Damascus governorate, was established to follow up on the decree’s implementation.
On October 25, 2022, the Damascus governor, in his capacity as head of the directorate, sent Letter No. 47141 to the governorate’s Directorate of Finance regarding so-called “obstacles” related to reconstruction in the Marota City and Basilia City projects. In particular, he referred to those related to obtaining construction permits due to delayed security studies.
According to Letter No. 47141, the governor suggested that the security studies for plot owners be delayed until they obtain the construction permits or that the studies only apply to the contractors, companies or workers implementing construction projects. Given the context, it appears that the “security studies” mentioned in the letter refer to security approvals, which are not a condition for obtaining construction permits. Still, security approval is a condition for many real estate activities related to construction permits.
Letter No. 47141 indicates a previous letter, No. 7885, issued on September 25, 2022, by the Baath Party Assistant Secretary-General. That letter was, in turn, based on Letter No. 14/535, published on September 22, 2022, by the National Security Office.
Letters No. 7885 and 14/535 both included an unclear approval to delay security studies until after granting construction permits but emphasised that the security studies would still apply to a wide range of real estate activities in Marota City.
The letters stated that security studies should still be conducted for partnership and allocation contracts and committee decisions to terminate common property or any related judicial rulings. Security studies are also required when appointing external power of attorney and transferring ownership to prevent the disposal of properties belonging to so-called “wanted or implicated individuals”, especially those who have left Syria.
Construction permit procedures
According to The Syria Report sources, obtaining a permit for construction within plots in Marota City requires more than 100 engineering and survey plans as well as lots of paperwork.
Many plot owners have yet to complete their permit procedures. Sources told The Syria Report that the owners of more than 100 plots had failed to obtain approval for their design concepts, considered an initial step for an eventual permit. No figures are available on the number of plots granted construction permits.
According to the “Guide to Construction Permit Procedures” in Marota City, issued by the Damascus governorate’s Executive Office (Decision No. 30 of 2018), there are two offices – the so-called front and back – that are affiliated with the Directorate for Implementation of Decree No. 66 and responsible for issuing the permits. The front office receives permit requests, while the back office contains employees from the directorate’s Department of Construction Permits, Department of Organisational Studies, and Department of Surveys.
The permit process begins when a plot owner or their legal representative submits a request to the front office for design concept approval. The request must include architectural, engineering, and survey plans, a description, a perspective view of the building and its relationship with its surroundings, and a payment of fees. The applicant will then make an appointment to visit the Department of Construction Permits in the back office.
In the back office, employees study the request and its compliance with construction codes for the Marota City zoned real estate area. The proposal is then sent to a technical committee, which includes representatives from the Damascus branch of the Syrian Engineers Syndicate and the University of Damascus appointed by the Damascus Governorate Council. The committee studies the initial design concept and has the right to accept or reject or request modifications.
The applicant can submit a construction permit application when the technical committee approves the design concept. The application must include the following: a document showing approval for the initial design concept, architectural plans, an agreement for a review of the project by the Syrian Engineers Syndicate’s Damascus Branch, a real estate record release form, a financial clearance from the Damascus governorate, and approval for all plot owners in question without any bans on disposing of the properties. That means that, at this stage of the process, applicants must also obtain security approval.
The application is referred to the back office for further study if they obtain security approval. Then the applicant is given the implementation file for the project, which the permits department refers to the Engineers Syndicate for approval. Then, the application returns to the permit office for a final review and the completion of documents. Only after applicants pay the fees is the permit finally granted.
Threats of public auctions
On September 15, 2018, the Damascus Governorate Council decided to subject owners of building plots within Marota City to an arsat tax, as stipulated in Law No. 82 of 2010. An arseh is any private plot of land prepared for construction. Law No. 82 requires owners of those building plots to obtain construction permits within a year of any re-zoning announcement for the area in which their properties are located.
For each year without a construction permit, the law imposes an additional 10-percent tax of the building plot’s value for four years. If there is still no construction permit after four years, the property goes up for sale in a public auction.
The first construction permit in Marota City was granted in June 2019, three months after the first expiry period under Law No. 82. Due to the slow permit process, the council agreed three consecutive times (the last of which was on March 9, 2022) to postpone enforcing arseh taxes in Marota City. The final deadline for imposing the tax is March 2023.