Explained: Expropriation for Unifying Real Estate Properties
On March 26, 2023, the Council of Ministers issued a decision to expropriate a property in Aleppo, considering it to be public property, and merged it with an adjacent one.
Decision No. 517 expropriated Section B of Real Estate 13480 from Aleppo’s Real Estate Zone No. 4. The property was merged with Real Estate 9637 after its owners failed to agree to implement approved zoning measures for the city of Aleppo.
The Council of Ministers issued a similar decree, No. 1972, on November 3, 2022, which expropriated Property 1858 and part of Property 1074 from the Northern Qatana Real Estate Zone No. 65 in the Rural Damascus governorate. The purpose of this decree was to merge those two properties with Property 1072 and expropriate part of Property 1854 and merge it with Property 1071. These measures would help implement the approved zoning plan for the Qatana area after the owners of those properties failed to reach an agreement to do so.
Syria’s Council of Ministers may issue expropriation decrees like the ones above to implement projects that are considered to have a public benefit, according to the expropriation law included in Legislative Decree No. 20 of 1983. There is a wide range of projects that fit this category, including paving new roads or expanding existing roads and constructing squares, souks, houses of worship, military barracks, airports, hospitals, medical centres, agricultural facilities, oil projects, and buildings for the Baath Party or other various organisations, as well as implementing zoning plans, tourism projects, and industrial zones. In addition, expropriation can also extend to real estate or parts of real estate that are unsuitable for construction so that they can be merged and made suitable for construction.
According to Decree No. 20, during the implementation of an approved zoning plan, if there are any adjacent properties (or parts of properties) that are unsuited for construction (due to small surface area or odd geometric shape), the owners of these properties must agree to merge them so that they can become suitable for construction according to their governorate’s building codes.
But if these owners fail to reach an agreement, then the local administrative unit may merge the properties and expropriate them in exchange for an expropriation compensation. Administrative authorities must document the process of combining these confiscated properties in the presence of the rights holders. This documentation can serve as evidence of the expropriation.
These properties must meet certain conditions to be merged. For example, they must be adjacent, be in the same real estate zone, and have the same legal classification. This merging process is a technical transaction similar to the real estate subdivision. First, a sworn engineer inspects the properties on the ground to ascertain their combined shape, draws technical plans, and organises surface area and boundaries records. They then transfer these records to the Land Registry department and later to the relevant administrative authority to approve the technical plans.
The administrative authority must then sell the newly merged real estate via exclusive auction to the owners of the combined properties. If there is a successful sale through this method, the buyer must pay the relevant administrative unit 15 percent of the sales value to cover administrative expenses. But if this exclusive auction does not reach the expropriation compensation value, the property goes up for public auction under Decree No. 28 of 1969, which regulates contracts made by public authorities. This auction is public and open to anyone, not just the owners of the merged properties. Once a sale is complete, the administrative unit uses the proceeds from the auction to pay the expropriation compensation to the owners of those expropriated properties.
The Expropriation Law allows administrative units to take one-quarter of the confiscated property free of charge in cases of partial expropriation so long as the remaining three-quarters of the property is suitable for use. In such cases, the administrative unit does not pay expropriation compensation for that deducted one-quarter of the property. However, if those remaining three-quarters are unsuitable for use, the entire property is expropriated.