Syria’s State Property Law No. 252 of 1959 allows individuals to occupy, rent and invest in the private state properties, which includes both built and unbuilt real estate as well as non-movable proprietary rights owned by the state as an entity. However, these are not designated for public benefit.
Private state properties encompass various categories, such as Amiri lands, properties registered in the name of the state within the Land Registry or in the state property records, and properties purchased by the state or that have lost their public benefit designation. Meaning, while public state properties are allocated for the public benefit like roads, squares, parks, and beaches, private state properties are intended for public entities, such as buildings and properties specific to local councils.
Law No. 252 of 1959 entrusts the management and oversight of the state’s private properties to the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. The Ministry issues regulations and decisions necessary for the repair, investment, leasing, distribution, and sale of the state’s private properties, based on fixed annual sums.
In many cases, an individual might occupy a state property unlawfully, without legal permission. For example, one might occupy a state property without a rental agreement, or a tenant might remain after their lease ends, or someone could build on state-owned land without a permit. In such cases, the Ministry of Finance collects the yearly dues for the property after settling the violation, following the procedures detailed in the Public Assets Collection Law. This is also inclusive of penalties and late fees.
Law No. 252 grants the Minister of Agriculture the right to terminate the entitlements of those holding state properties, whether through purchase, rental, or distribution, if they violate contract terms. The process of terminating the rights of those who breach contract conditions is done administratively and is termed “hand removal.” A decision on hand removal can be appealed before a judicial committee formed by the Minister of Agriculture, as per the Agrarian Reform Law No. 161 of 1958, within a month of the decision’s issuance, and the committee’s decision is binding.
The committee consists of three members, led by a judge appointed by the Minister of Justice, a representative from the General Directorate of Real Estate Services, and an employee from the Ministry of Agriculture. This committee isn’t impartial or judicially independent, given that it’s formed by the Minister of Agriculture, who is a party to the dispute.
The Minister of Agriculture also has the authority under Law No. 252 to cancel rights of easement, usufruct, and benefit granted to individuals on state properties if deemed in the public interest, with the possibility to challenge this decision before the aforementioned judicial committee.
This applies, for example, in the case of easement rights, if someone owns land adjacent to a state property and needs to pass through it, while in the case of usufruct and benefit rights, it applies to amiri lands that the state distributes to individuals.
Undoubtedly, the power granted to the Minister of Agriculture exposes those rights holders to the risk of deprivation. This is because the criterion of “public interest” on which the Minister of Agriculture relies when cancelling these rights might be difficult to define.