Syria’s Expropriation Law, enacted by Decree No. 20 of 1983, grants certain public entities the authority to deduct the equivalent of one-quarter of the area of a property that is partially expropriated, free of charge and without compensation. The Expropriation Law justifies this measure by arguing that the value of the remaining portion of the property will increase due to the improvements made to the deducted one-quarter. This assumption stems from the idea that the value of the rest of the property will increase due to the implementation of public benefit projects that may be implemented by public and private entities on the expropriated land.
As a consequence, public entities now have legal authority to expropriate, without compensation, one-quarter of the area of any property – so long as the expropriation affects only a portion of the property while the remaining part stays with the owner and remains usable.
Article 31 of the Expropriation law from 1983 outlines the provisions for this free one-quarter deduction and specifies its conditions – these relate to the administrative body entitled to expropriate, the projects that permit the deduction of the free one-quarter, and the specifics of the expropriated property itself.
The first paragraph of Article 31 states: “Administrative entities and units, the Syrian railways institutions, the Syrian Civil Aviation Authority and the General Directorate of Syrian Ports, may, free of charge and once only, deduct the equivalent of one-quarter of the area of the property being partially expropriated. This deduction is permitted for road and street construction or expansion, for establishing and expanding reservoirs, airports, ports, squares, public parks and markets, and for implementing railway, irrigation, drinking water, oil, gas and electricity projects, provided the remaining part of the property remains usable.”
Only the entities mentioned above have the right to expropriate the free one-quarter. Other entities may not – though the judicial ruling in Decision No. 474, Base 2101 of 1986, stipulates that, in such a case, expropriation by the public entity must be based on a legal document, namely the expropriation decree. If the administration seizes the property unlawfully in a manner that contradicts the law that protects property rights, it is deemed an infringement on individual rights. Thus, the entity does not have the right to deduct the free one-quarter.
Article 31 also explicitly mentions the projects for which administrative entities can deduct a free one-quarter of a property for implementation. A free deduction cannot be made for any project not explicitly mentioned in the text of Article 31. This restriction prevents excessive expropriation without compensation, which constitutes an infringement on property rights. For example, the jurisprudence of the Supreme Administrative Court, in Decision No. 227, Base 135 dated 10/05/1965, affirms that the free one-quarter deduction is not permissible if the expropriation is for investment projects.
Furthermore, for a public entity to deduct the “free” one-quarter legally, it must only expropriate a portion of the property, not its entirety. When expropriating the entire property, the administrative entity must pay the full compensation. In practice, if such an entity expropriates a part of the property and deducts the free one-quarter, and later decides to expropriate the entire property, they must then compensate for the one-quarter they previously did not pay for, in essence paying full compensation for the property.
As mentioned earlier, the remaining, non-expropriated part of the property, should be usable by the property owner. If it is not, then the property owner can request the administration to fully expropriate it within three years from the date of initial expropriation, according to Article 11 of Decree No. 20 of 1983.
Jurisprudence in Decision No. 417, Base 1056 dated April 20, 1992, confirmed this principle, stating that the deduction of the free one-quarter is contingent on a part of the expropriated property remaining usable. If this condition is not met and the entire property is expropriated, full compensation must be paid.
In any case, expropriation without compensation under the guise of a free one-quarter deduction contradicts the 2012 Syrian constitution, which emphasises the protection of private property – namely, expropriation is only permissible for public benefit and in return for fair compensation. The Expropriation Law’s given justification for the right to deduct one-quarter of a property without compensation is that it will benefit the remaining part of the property through improvements. However, this assumption is not based on realistic grounds. On the contrary, such expropriation can potentially harm the remaining part of the property.