In opposition-held parts of northwestern Syria, there is confusion about the legal relationship between local governing bodies and foreign donor groups, particularly regarding housing and foreign ownership of local property. The issue has recently come under increased discussion amid the many local housing projects being funded and implemented by foreign organisations.
For example, within the Turkish government’s “voluntary” refugee return project, Ankara’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) is to coordinate with NGOs to construct new residential areas in northern Syria that will accommodate more than one million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. In addition, many Ankara-backed Turkish and Syrian aid organisations have implemented alternative housing projects in recent years for residents of the northern Syrian displacement camps.
In both cases, certain details remain unclear, especially the legality of some foreign organisations working on Syrian soil. It is also unclear whether these organisations have the right to rent or purchase the lands on which they have constructed the housing projects, or how the ownership of such properties will be subsequently transferred to the new rights holders.
Backed by Turkey, the Syrian opposition controls the rural northern part of the Aleppo governorate, as well as rural parts of the Hassakeh and Raqqa governorates. The Syrian Interim Government (SIG), local councils, various security and judicial bodies, and armed forces are all present in those areas.
In areas under SIG control, Local Administration Law No. 107 of 2011 (which regulates the relationship between local councils and governmental and non-governmental organisations) is still in use, sources told The Syria Report. The areas still also use Law No. 11 of 2011, which restricts foreigners’ ownership of real estate properties inside Syria. No real estate sales to foreigners have yet been registered in those areas, the sources said.
Law No. 11 of 2011 allows the Minister of Interior to grant exceptions to facilitate foreigners’ property ownership, whether those foreigners are individuals or legal entities. The SIG’s Minister of Interior is therefore entitled to assume the rights granted to him/her by Law No. 11 and grant exceptions to foreign organisations to own land inside Syria. In such cases, the transfer of ownership to the foreign organisation would be recorded in the Land Registry and the act considered legal.
It is worth noting that under Law No. 11 of 2011, children of Syrian women married to foreigners are barred from real estate inheritance as they are considered foreigners and, therefore, not entitled to own real estate.
At the same time, the areas under SIG control in the rural Aleppo, Raqqa, and Hassakeh governorates are considered border areas. As such, sales of real estate in those areas – to Syrians and foreigners alike – are subject to the provisions of Law No. 41 of 2004 (which defines the border areas) and its amendments in Decree No. 49 of 2008 and Decree No. 43 of 2011.
Under Article 1 of Law No. 41 of 2004, it is not permitted to create, transfer, amend, or acquire any real property right on land within the border area or to occupy it through leasing, investment, or any other form for a period of more than three years in the name of or benefitting any natural person or legal entity without a previously granted licence. According to the 2011 amendment to the law, lands located within zoning plans are excluded from the provisions of Article 1. Under Article 2, licences may be granted by decree of the Minister of Interior or an authorised deputy based on a proposal from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform and with the approval of the Ministry of Defence.
As the SIG has not made any amendment to Law No. 41 of 2004, the licensing requirement remains in force in the areas under the opposition governing body’s control, sources told The Syria Report. However, no requests have yet been submitted to the SIG Ministry of Defence or Ministry of Interior to obtain licences for foreign land ownership in those areas.