Syria’s system of delimitation and census, as outlined in Decree No. 186 of 1926, remains in force for surveying zones that have not yet been entered into the Land Registry. As a part of the process, a land record is established for the properties located within a specified zone, with each property assigned a number and entered into the Land Registry under the names of the owners.
Many parts of the delimitation and census process pose the risk of property rights violations, as many real estate owners have been displaced either within Syria or abroad, while others have been forcibly disappeared or imprisoned.
Steps to delimitation and census
First, a real estate judge sets a date for the start of the implementation process for delimitation and census in a certain area of their governorate. This decision must be published in the Official Gazette at least two months before the scheduled start of delimitation and census. Engineers accredited by the Land Registry’s Surveying Department then carry out the process under the supervision of their respective governorate’s real estate judge.
Once the judge initiates delimitation and census, real estate owners and rights holders in the concerned area are invited to show the boundaries of their properties and provide statements; this stage can be referred to as the delimitation process. If a rights holder fails to show up, the process goes on without them, according to Articles 10 and 12 of Decree No. 186. In this case, delimitation is based on statements by the mukhtar, the head of a local village, town, or neighbourhood, neighbours, and other people who are present.
Delimitation may perhaps be summarised as an investigative process to record statements made by rights holders, owners, and neighbours, as well as to register objections and gather any supporting documents. If a dispute arises over the ownership of a given property, then the occupant is considered the owner, while the person initiating the argument is registered as the objector.
Next, the engineer proceeds to define the borders of the properties whose ownership has been proven, including any disputed properties, then compiles a list of the names of owners whose properties are located within the area undergoing the process.
Formally registering a property in the name of the occupant could pose the risk of ownership rights violations, as the occupant may have illegally seized the property, such as through extortion. In any case, the real estate judge may, in the course of delimitation and census, determine the validity of the boundary definition work carried out by the engineer. However, the judge may not decide on disputes over real estate rights until after completion of the delimitation and census process.
Afterwards, the engineer makes a file for each property, called the delimitation and census transcript. This transcript includes a description of the property, its location, and legal type (whether Amiri land or owned real estate), surface area, boundaries, and the names of the owners for common properties, as well as their personal information, shares, and addresses. Also included are any rights arising from the property that benefit others, such as the right of usufruct. Finally, the transcript contains any deeds and documents submitted by the rights holders, as well as any objections.
The transcript is then stamped and signed by the engineer, owners, objectors, neighbours, and anyone else whose statement is contained within the file.
Then the engineer starts the census process, which includes preparing a table called the “census table,” which includes a summary of the work that the engineer has undertaken to identify the owners and rights holders. The real estate judge then decides on any objections and the engineer submits the census table to the Surveying Department.
The engineer submits the entire delimitation and census transcript, as well as the census table, to the real estate judge.
Afterwards, the real estate judge invites any objectors to submit the necessary documents to prove the rights they wish to lay claim to. They must submit these documents within 30 days. During this period, any individual may approach the real estate judge to object to the process; their objections and documents are recorded.
When the 30-day period ends, the real estate judge issues a decision to conclude the delimitation and census process. This decision is announced to the concerned parties and published in the Official Gazette.
The real estate judge approves the delimitation and census transcript and the census table, then issues a decision to enter them into the Land Registry. The judge does not need to notify any parties or announce this decision publicly. The transcript and table are then sent to the head of the Real Estate Office at the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs to be registered in the owners’ names.