New Law Facilitates Real Estate Purchases for Foreigners, Including Foreign Fighters
In February 2021, the Parliament approved amendments to some articles of Law No. 11 of 2011 concerning real estate ownership rights for non-Syrians. The new law containing the amendment is awaiting the President’s signature and publication in the Official Gazette in order to become effective.
Law No. 11 of 2011 cancelled Law No. 11 of 2008, which was the first to allow non-Syrians to own real estate in Syria. Prior to that, Law No. 189 of 1952 prohibited the issuance, modification or transfer of any real estate right in Syria, by and to non-Syrians.
Article 1 of Law No. 11 outlined the conditions that must be met by a non-Syrian who wishes to own property in Syria, as well as conditions related to the property. Ownership must be for the benefit of a family, not an individual, and the family’s residency in Syria must be legal, regardless of its duration. The property must be a single property meant for personal residential use of a family, and it must have the necessary licenses under official construction codes. In addition, the property must be an integrated residential unit with an area of no less than 140 square metres. In all such cases, the prospective property owner must obtain prior authorisation, issued by decree of the Minister of Interior, to complete the ownership process.
The new amendment repeals the rule that only foreigners with a family can own property in Syria. Now, any foreigner can own real estate. The 2021 amendment also removes the size requirement for the property, overriding a clause that authorised the government to grant exemptions in this regard.
Article 2 of Law No. 11 of 2011 had prohibited non-Syrians who acquired property from disposing of it within the first two years of ownership without permission from the Minister of Interior. The 2021 amendment preserves the Article but removes the Minster of Interior’s authority to grant an exemption.
Under Article 3 of the 2011 law, if a property is transferred to a non-Syrian through inheritance or a will, their right to the property is forfeited unless there is reciprocal treatment from the country of their citizenship. In such cases, the non-Syrian must transfer ownership of the property they have received to a Syrian citizen within two years, otherwise the property will be transferred to the State Property Administration under the Expropriations Law. The new amendment from 2021 only changes the time limit granted to foreigners before they must transfer ownership to a Syrian, extending it to three years. And, where the 2011 law allowed for the government to override Article 3, the new amendment does not allow such an exemption.
In short, the 2021 amendment includes the first three articles of Law No. 11 of 2011 while repealing partial restrictions on ownership by non-Syrians, in exchange for cancelling powers previously granted to the government to grant exemptions.
The most important aspect of the 2021 amendment is the move towards allowing foreign individuals greater freedom to own property in Syria. This means granting permits to any foreigner residing in Syria, regardless of whether they are part of a family unit or the conditions related to the property. In addition, cancellation of the exceptions previously granted by the government indicates they are no longer necessary, while certain partial restrictions have also been lifted.
Sources familiar with the Syrian real estate market told The Syria Report that approval of the new amendment and easing of ownership rules may open the door to foreign fighters affiliated with pro-regime militias who wish to purchase real estate in Syria. This may lead to a rise in real estate prices and speculation, potentially freezing the market and negatively impacting Syrians. The sources warned that foreign fighters may see Syrian real estate as a way to launder money gained from illegal businesses, such as the smuggling of drugs, weapons, food and fuel.
Sources who spoke with The Syria Report added that the amendment may also aim to secure legal cover for financial transactions with businesspeople, influential figures and companies from states allied with the Syrian regime, in order to circumvent Western sanctions.