Property expropriation is legitimate in Syria but it remains an administrative act that affects individual property rights. According to the law, any administrative authority, when expropriating for public benefit, must pay fair compensation to the owners of expropriated properties. This acts as a safeguard for property rights against uncompensated or free expropriation.
The 2012 Syrian Constitution mentions fair compensation for expropriation – this means that the compensation amount should not be less than the current value of the expropriated property, and it should be paid in full and immediately. However, the expropriation law enacted by Decree No. 20 of 1983 gives the expropriating administration a five-year period to pay this compensation. If the administration is late in payment, they are obliged to pay a legal interest of six percent for each year of delay.
Expropriation Law No. 20 stipulates assessing the value of expropriated properties based on their value immediately before the expropriation decree date. It did not consider any subsequent price increases due to the expropriation project, commercial speculations, or the passage of time.
The advisory opinion of the State Council No. 106 of 1983 followed the same approach, considering that the assessment of expropriated property values is based on their status at the time of expropriation, without taking into account any subsequent changes in their descriptions, whether due to the owners, public entities, or as a result of the execution of the expropriation project.
After specialized committees assess the property’s value and compensation according to the expropriation law, their decision is final and cannot be reviewed. Even if the expropriating administration delays payment for more than five years, the owner of the expropriated property does not have the right to request a reevaluation of the property.
This legally mandated payment period is unduly long, allowing the expropriating administration to delay its payments. Such delays can be detrimental to the owner of the expropriated property, especially if they need to purchase another property. The current value of a property, assessed at the beginning of the payment period in Syrian pounds, is lower than its value five years later at the end of that period, considering the fluctuation in the exchange rate of the Syrian pound and its purchasing power.
The 1983 expropriation law did not distinguish between licensed and unlicensed buildings when discussing the estimation of compensation value for the expropriated property. The law considered that the property value assessment includes the land, buildings, and construction. Meanwhile, real estate departments at the governorate level compile a list of property owners set for expropriation, registered rights holders, their respective shares, and their sizes. The expropriating entity then notifies the owners and the beneficiaries of the estimated value of these properties. Compensation from the expropriating administration is limited to those whose names appear in the list of rights holders and will not cover owners of unlicensed buildings constructed on public properties.
The administration can expropriate the property before paying the compensation. This goes against the principle of fair compensation, which necessitates that the administration should pay before taking possession of the property.
The expropriation law specifies two methods for payment of compensation: direct payment and deposit. In direct payment cases, the expropriating entity pays the compensation directly to the property owner or deposits the amount as a trust with the property registry until the property owner and a representative from the expropriating entity are present. The owner’s acknowledgment of receiving the compensation is then documented, and the property’s ownership is transferred and registered under the name of the expropriating entity. For this payment method, the property’s record must be free from any notes or restrictions.
The second method is the deposit: the expropriating entity deposits the compensation in the name of the owner at one of the public banks, after which the property’s ownership is transferred to the expropriating entity.