On March 6, 2023, the executive office of the Damascus governorate council issued Decision No. 302, amending particular articles of the building code system in Damascus. The decision was published in the lobby of the Damascus Governorate in mid-June 2023, aiming to allow objections within one month. After studying the complaints, the Damascus governorate will approve the new building code system and submit it to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing for ratification and publication in the Official Gazette.
A building code consists of administrative decisions issued by an area’s administrative unit council and approved by the relevant governorate and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The regulations in a code stipulate the necessary conditions for constructing, repairing and demolishing buildings and facilities within the boundaries of the administrative unit. Each unit has its unique building code system, issued according to the standards of the area’s zoning plans and based on urban planning laws. Building codes determine the proper building proportion of a plot of land, the height of floors, distances between buildings and more. Building codes are considered one of the foundations of urban planning, including detailed and general zoning plans.
Decision No. 302 included amendments to articles in the Damascus city building code issued under Decree No. 492 of 1997. Some of these amendments are substantial, and some are only surface-level.
The most significant amendment was to Article 165, related to the current state of construction. It is now possible for the Directorate of Urban Planning and Zoning to consider licensing buildings constructed without licenses between 1948 and the date of issuing the new building code, according to the construction system in place at the time of the building’s completion. For this to occur, a surface cadastral survey, a real estate registry extract, and a photographic representation of the current architectural state of the entire building must be provided. The amendment allows the completion of the structure according to the urban method in the area, provided that a technical report is secured and authenticated by the Engineers’ Syndicate on the structural safety of the building.
Also, the other notable amendment related to housing, land and property rights is the following:
- Adding a definition of the so-called “technical floor” to the definitions section in the first chapter. This refers to the floor containing the building’s mechanical equipment, such as heating, water pumping, treatment equipment, etc. This floor is considered joint property for the building owners or the buildings sharing this equipment. Using this floor for any purposes other than its intended use is prohibited. This floor does not count in the calculation of floor surface area. However, it is subject to financial fees according to the Financial Law of Administrative Units No. 37 of 2021.
- Amending Article 3 to grant a construction permit only after verifying the applicant’s ownership. Also, the permit may be amended in the name of the legal heirs after being ratified by a Sharia judge, and with the judge’s approval in case a minor is present. The Sharia judge is the judge in charge of examining personal status issues.
- Amending Article 7, related to conducting unlicensed construction during the implementation of a building project. Under the new amendment, the person who violates the construction permit, whether the owner or the contractor, will be suspended from working in the domain of construction permits within the governorate for five years. However, the governorate has the right to ask the Engineers’ Syndicate to punish the engineer responsible for the unlicensed implementation, according to their speciality, in line with professional standards. The decision still exempts the offending engineer from punishment if they submit a written report about the violation within a week of its occurrence. A paragraph has also been added to Article 7, stating that the Licensing and Construction Department in Damascus governorate is the body that issues the order to start excavation and construction work after the building permit issuance, so long as the property is free of encroachments.
- Amending Article 9 regarding the duration of a construction permit so that the time of the license is now three years for buildings consisting of six or fewer storeys. Four months are added for each additional storey, so long as the permit period does not exceed five years. An additional year is added for modifying the permit. Meanwhile, an amendment to Article 10 stipulates a halt to construction work when the permit period ends and not to continue work before extending or renewing the permit with the approval of the Damascus governorate council’s executive office. The permit holder must apply for its extension a month before its expiry, provided they prove that the non-completion of the construction is due to reasons beyond their control.
- Amending Article 12 related to the renewal of the construction permit. Under this amendment, the license renewal goes according to the building code on which it was granted, or according to this new system if construction work has not started yet. However, the permit renewal only covers any storeys not yet built or the work not yet executed under the original permit. Many documents must be presented to renew the permit, including the real estate’s land record summary.
- Amending Article 30, which is related to housing permits. Housing permits are now to be given in two stages, according to Building Plot Construction Law No. 82 of 2010, as follows: the first permit is given after inspecting the building to ensure its structural safety before starting the interior cladding work. The second permit is given after the building’s interior and exterior finishes and after ensuring no unlicensed construction has occurred.
- Amending Article 83 related to residential units. According to the amendment, the smallest residential unit should be no less than 35 square meters (previously, the minimum was 29 square meters). It should contain one or two rooms with a net area of no less than 20 square meters. The smallest dimension, i.e. the length or width of the room, should not be less than three meters, and the area of each room should not be less than nine square meters. The kitchen area should not be less than six square meters, with its smallest dimension not less than 2.4 meters. The combined bathroom and toilet area should not be less than 3.6 square meters. While the amendment of Article 84 is also related to residential units, it requires that the net width of the internal corridor in the residential apartment should not be less than 1.1 meters.
- Amending Article 93 related to the room allocated for a building’s caretaker. Its surface area on the ground floor should now be at least 12 square meters instead of the previous minimum of 10 square meters.
- Amending Article 102 related to the “last” or highest roof space of a building, where the staircase covering must be replaced by an opening that provides access to the last roof via a metal ladder. Joint water tanks must be placed on the roof, as well as the installation of a central television antenna and allowing the installation of solar panels on the roof. An amendment to Article 108 also mandated the existence of a car garage in the basement for all residential and non-residential divisions.