On January 23, the Damascus governor announced new procedures for buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp that have fallen or are at risk of either partial or total collapse. However, the announcement was unclear and ambiguous and appeared to have no legal basis.
The announcement, which was issued in the state-owned Al-Baath Newspaper, included a request by the Damascus governor for residents and property owners in Yarmouk to “visit the Yarmouk Services Department to remove their collapsed buildings or demolish buildings at risk of total or partial collapse. An announcement will be made in the Official Gazette and affiliated websites for one month, after which the buildings will be removed, and their owners charged the costs of removal.” It is unclear what is required of the residents, i.e. whether they must remove their buildings themselves, or if the Yarmouk Services Department will do so.
The Yarmouk Services Department was established by Damascus Governor’s Decree No. 61 of 2018 to replace the semi-independent Yarmouk Camp Local Committee that had administered the camp since 1964. The new services department operates directly under the Damascus governorate and has its headquarters in the same building once occupied by the now-defunct local committee on Palestine Street.
The governor’s announcement was unclear in several ways. First, regarding the one-month deadline, it was unclear whether that one month was the period the announcement would appear in the Official Gazette and news websites, the deadline for property owners to visit the services department, or the deadline for demolishing and removing the buildings.
Second, the announcement had no legal basis in Law No. 3 of 2018, which concerns removing the rubble of damaged buildings and buildings subject to laws requiring demolition. Law No. 3 grants the governor the power to determine real estate zones and damaged buildings that must be removed while giving property owners one month to prove their rights to ownership of the rubble.
Law No. 3 also requires the governor to form a committee to assess the damaged buildings and identify the owners. The committee has five members, including a real estate judge who heads it, the Land Registry’s Surveying Department president, a real estate expert, a representative from the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs, and a representative from the local residents. The committee is tasked with determining the condition of the buildings and the extent of damage and structural integrity, as well as recommending full, partial, or no demolition.
Although Law No. 3 is already very problematic and poses risks to housing, land, and property rights, local administrative units tend to more often address issues related to rubble, fallen buildings, or buildings at risk of collapse, according to administrative decisions and circulars they have issued in the past. This process is also extremely problematic, as it allows administrative units, especially those operating in informal settlements, to demolish buildings without assuming any responsibility towards their owners.
This process resembles what is currently underway in Darayya, a city in the Rural Damascus governorate. There, the executive office is carrying out a campaign to demolish buildings it deems at risk of collapse, uninhabitable or a risk to passers-by and neighbours. The demolitions have no legal basis, and no committee is in place to ascertain ownership rights over the properties.
Lastly, the Damascus governor’s recent announcement is unclear about its threat to impose fines on people whose rubble the governorate will remove. The announcement does not outline any criteria for how the governorate will calculate these fines or how they will be implemented.
Announcement issued by Damascus governor regarding buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp that have fallen or are at risk of either partial or total collapse. Source: The official Al-Baath newspaper.