Tenant Leases in Old City of Aleppo Renewed
The Aleppo City Council in October issued decision No. 586, renewing the leases of more than 1,000 tenants of shops and other municipally owned properties in the Bahastiya neighbourhood, according to the state-run Tishreen newspaper. Bahastiya is located in Aleppo’s seventh real estate zone.
Bahastiya Street, the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare, dates to the 14th century and is named after the Mamluk-era Bahastiya Mosque. The area sits within the larger Bab Al-Faraj district, part of the Old City of Aleppo. It underwent modernisation towards the end of the Ottoman era and became famous for its bars and brothels, which were licensed by Ottoman authorities in the early 1900s. After independence, Syrian authorities cancelled those licenses, but the brothels continued operating into the 1970s.
The neighbourhood was also home to many Jewish families since the 1400s, though they emigrated gradually in the 1940s. Most of the properties owned by the Aleppo City Council in Bahastiya originally belonged to those Jewish residents. However, it is unclear how the state expropriated those properties or whether it compensated the owners.
The city council leased these shops and other properties under the old Tenancy Law No. 111 of 1952 and its amendments. According to Law No. 11, tenants of such properties may not be evicted as long as they are committed to paying rent, which is usually very low. These properties are also subject to compulsory extension, meaning that their lease contracts may be extended whether or not the lessor — in this case, the local administrative unit — wants to do so. Law No. 111 grants administrative units the right to re-appraise the values of these lease contracts every three years through a court-appointed committee.
However, under decision No. 78 of 2018, issued by Aleppo City Council’s executive office, the council ended this tenancy relationship unilaterally. Decision No. 78 considered the tenants to have “placed a hand” on the properties and demanded that they “make the equivalent payment” – meaning that the council saw these properties as being under the control of their current occupants – and then they must pay rents comparable to those typical of the area. In addition, the termination of the tenancy relationship was unilateral, meaning that decision No. 78 was issued without accounting for the tenants’ opinions in revoking their contracts.
Then the city executive office issued decision No. 69 in 2020, which ended all tenancy relationships between the city council and owners or occupants of expropriated real estate. According to decision No. 69, this did not mean the eviction of those occupants but rather that they would now be obliged to pay rents comparable to typical rental payments in the area.
Several of these tenants subsequently filed lawsuits against the city council in which they objected to the unilateral cancellation of their tenancy relationship and said the council’s decision to raise their rents was illegal.
Most recently, decision No. 586 of 2022 cancelled the previous decisions No. 78 and 69. It called on the properties in question to be re-appraised so long as the tenants drop their lawsuits against the city council. Since Tenancy Law No. 111 of 1952 has not been in effect since 2011, it is not clear what the legal basis was for Decision No. 586 to renew the leasing relationship with tenants.
The Aleppo City Council’s executive office member told Tishreen that decision No. 586 corrected the previous decisions and straightened matters out. The move was based on Decree No. 13 of 2022, which granted tax exemptions and other wide-ranging concessions within old city centres in Aleppo, Homs and Deir-ez-Zor governorates, including within historic souk districts. However, the exact relationship between Resolution No. 586 and Decree No. 13 for the leased properties in Aleppo remains unclear, except for some tax exemptions enacted in recent years.