From the 16th century until the end of Ottoman rule in Syria, the Sharia courts regulated the documentation for proving real estate ownership and entered them into their records. These records are still preserved in Damascus and Aleppo, and to a lesser degree in Homs and Hama, and are still used before the Sharia courts today.
The modern system of land registration and administration in Syria began with the issuance of the Ottoman Tabu land registry system in 1859, which remained in force until 1918. Meanwhile, the current real estate system, with its institutions and laws, began only with the French mandate of Syria and Lebanon. The French High Commissioner issued four decrees based on French, German and Swiss laws in order to reform the real estate system in Syria and Lebanon:
Decree No. 186 of 1926, which included the system for real estate delimitation and census; Decree No. 187 of 1926, which identified the mechanisms for delimitation and census; Decree No. 188 of 1926, which included the Land Registry Law; and Decree No. 189 of 1926, which carried the executive instructions for the Land Registry Law.
This is how the modern Syrian state’s Land Registry came to be. Decree No. 188 of 1926 defined the Land Registry as a set of documents containing the descriptions and legal statuses of each piece of real estate, as well as the rights attached to them and any transactions or modifications. Under this decree, the registry consists of an ownership registry book and its supplementary documents, namely: daily book, a delimitation and census record, survey maps, aerial plans, survey plans and any other attached documents.
For Syrians, the term “Land Registry” refers to the place where real estate transactions and other related items are documented. As for the official name of the institution, it is called the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs (GDCA), and is headquartered in Damascus with sub-departments in each governorate.
The legal and administrative structure of the GDCA has developed over time to meet changing documentation and registry needs. That said, the four decrees issued in 1926, during the French mandate, still exist today, alongside their amendments.
Legislative Decree No. 81 of 1947 regulates the operations and staffing of the GDCA and stipulates opening central and subsidiary departments in the governorates. The GDCA was attached to the Ministry of Justice until 1959, when it was switched over to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform. Finally, Local Administration Law No. 7 of 2010 attached the GDCA to the Ministry of Local Administration.
Originally, there were five central departments to the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs under Law No. 81: the Administrative Diwan, the Inspection Commission, the Land Registration Department, the Real Estate Survey and Improvement Department, and the Accounting Department.
The number of departments increased over time, and their names and some of their duties changed, as the methods for preserving and archiving real estate documents developed from paper to photography, to digital. Today there are nine central departments: Real Estate Legalisation and Registration; Surveying; Administrative Affairs; Accounting; Central Land Registry; Information; Rehabilitation and Planning; Engineering and Transport; and Internal Monitoring.