Explained: Syrian Law and HLP Rights in Natural Disasters
No law in Syria’s legislative system specifically addresses real estate damaged by natural disasters. Article 24 of the Syrian Constitution, issued as part of Decree No. 94 of 2012, says that the state, alongside the society, bears the burdens resulting from such disasters, without any indication of which laws deal with such events.
Although some laws mention issues related to real estate damaged by natural disasters, they do not address housing, land, and property rights. In all these cases, the few laws that exist for natural disasters distinguish between licensed buildings and buildings built without construction permits, as well as between informal settlements and zoned areas.
Syrian Civil Code
Article 817 of Syrian Civil Code No. 84 of 1949 states that the owners may form a union where the real estate is divided into separate apartments or storeys. Under Article 823, if the building is destroyed by a fire or other means, the partners in this union must abide by what the union decides by the majority.
If the union decides to rebuild, then compensation money due for the damages is allocated. In practice, this means that for licensed buildings in a zoned area, should most owners want to rebuild, then reconstruction is carried out at their expense. Each owner contributes according to their share in the building. The union may also employ compensation money or assistance the state provides for reconstruction. Afterwards, the building is returned to its owners in the same condition it was in beforehand.
In practice, however, residential building unions like the ones mentioned above have yet to be formed in Syria. Instead, there is Law on Building Occupants’ Organisations and their Administrative Committees No. 55 of 2022, issued to regulate and maintain the commonly used portions of residential buildings and thus enable occupants to settle disputes arising from their use. This law is non-binding, and many buildings do not have such committees.
If the building cannot be reconstructed, the shareowners may terminate their common ownership of the property and divide it up. First, they must correct the legal property description of the real estate and list it as merely a plot of land slated for construction. In other words, subdivided ownership of the building ceases to exist, and each owner reverts to joint owners of the land itself. In such cases, the owners are entitled to the rubble of their former homes and any monetary compensation or aid as decided by the state.
Law No. 15 of 2008
In cases where Real Estate Development and Investment Law No. 15 of 2008 is applied to an area damaged by a natural disaster, the real estate developer must secure alternative housing for occupants or pay an agreed-upon cash allowance. Recipients must pay for any alternative accommodation they are allocated. This law may include real estate within and outside an existing zoning plan. It also stipulates allocating and selling real estate residential shares within the zoned real estate area to occupants of expropriated homes after the completion of construction work.
Under Article 14 of this law, real estate development and investment projects aimed at sheltering people impacted by natural disasters are a top priority among other projects.
Law No. 33 of 2008
For real estate destroyed by natural disasters, Syria’s executive authority may apply Law No. 33 of 2008, which addresses establishing ownership for built properties and parts of unbuilt properties in informal settlements or areas with mass unlicensed construction. This is although the law itself does not mention natural disasters.
To apply Law No. 33 to real estate destroyed by natural disasters, the properties must have undergone delimitation and census, be recorded in the Land Registry and be connected within one area. According to the law’s executive instructions, the buildings on these properties must also constitute at least 50 percent of the properties’ surface areas.
This law does not stipulate granting alternative housing or compensation for people impacted by natural disasters, as its scope is limited to simply establishing ownership of properties. Law No. 33 may not apply to a damaged area if another zoning, urbanisation, real estate development or investment law is in force there.
Legislative Decree No. 40 of 2012
Legislative Decree No. 40 of 2012, which focuses on unlicensed construction, states that if a property within a zoned area built in violation of the building permit has been destroyed, it becomes the owners’ common property. Those owners may request a renewed construction permit per the building codes in place.
Decree No. 40 does not entitle owners of unlicensed buildings to any rights should their properties collapse. Instead, Article 2 of the law states that if an unlicensed facility is incapable of standing (according to an assessment by that governorate’s public safety committee) then whoever is found responsible should be sentenced to a year to three years imprisonment. Should the building’s collapse cause the death of one or more persons, the penalty increases to at least ten years of hard labour and three times the usual fine.
Law No. 23 of 2015
Chapter two on Zoning and Urbanisation Law No. 23/2015 can apply to areas impacted by natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods. However, the law leaves it up to the local administrative units in damaged areas to apply zoning measures according to prior zoning plans when implementing approved plans, meaning they are not obliged to rezone areas impacted by natural disasters.
Law No. 23 does allow exemptions from fees and any other local costs and sums related to rebuilding destroyed real estate. At the same time, the law entitles administrative units to deduct parts of these damaged areas free of charge and expropriate areas containing mass unlicensed construction that happen to be located within approved zoning plans.
The law calls for creating compulsory land readjustment committees tasked with giving rights holders their due shares, either within or near the location of their original property. Rights holders may also be granted plots of land to be commonly owned between them, provided each owner’s share is identified. However, these measures apply only to properties that have been licensed. Law No. 23 states that owners have rights only over the rubble for unlicensed properties within zoned areas or state-owned lands. Administrative entities may choose to sell alternative housing to the owners of unlicensed properties if there is a surplus.
Law No. 10 of 2018
Law No. 10 of 2018 stipulates that one or more zoned real estate areas may be established within the zoning plans of an administrative unit and was meant to complement Legislative Decree No. 66 of 2012. The 2018 law may be applied only to areas containing unlicensed construction and informal housing destroyed by natural disasters, as it does not stipulate any application in already licensed buildings in zoned areas.
Article 43 of Law No. 10 states that owners of unlicensed construction only have the right to the rubble of their buildings and the possibility of being allocated alternative housing by the local administrative unit if there is a surplus. However, they must pay for such housing. They may also receive two years of rent allowance.
Law No. 3 of 2018
Finally, Law No. 3 of 2018, which focuses on removing the rubble of damaged buildings, was issued in response to the destruction Syria faced due to the war. However, the law also includes measures for removing the rubble of buildings destroyed by natural causes such as earthquakes. In either case, it is up to the relevant governor, based on proposals by local administrative units, to determine which damaged areas will undergo rubble removal.
Law No. 3 does not differentiate between the rubble of buildings in zoned vs unzoned areas. It also does not stipulate what is meant to happen to lands where debris has been removed or when facilities at risk of collapse have been demolished. The law does not clarify whether owners of these properties may construct new buildings, whether they must be compensated or even if the land is expropriated, whether allowance payments or alternative housing must be given to the owner. However, Law No. 3 clearly states that property owners have ownership rights over the rubble of their buildings.
This law is not limited to only removing building rubble but also includes the possibility of administrative units demolishing damaged buildings and removing debris.