Although there is no official estimation of the number of unlicensed construction works in Damascus, the media has put the number at more than 750,000 built since 2012 alone. Unlicensed construction can include structures that infringe on setbacks (the minimum distance of a building or other structure from a street, river, flood plain, etc.), overtake joint or public facilities, and lack a permit.
The Damascus governorate launched a new online mechanism in early 2022 to confront unlicensed construction. Submissions must include the complainant’s name, phone number, and home and email addresses; the accused violator’s name; and the location and a photo of the unlicensed construction.
Upon receiving submissions, the Damascus Directorate of Complaints and Grievances, which follows Decision No. 59 of 2012, evaluates and investigates the applications before sending its report to the relevant municipal services directorate.
The Damascus governorate comprises 16 districts, each with its own municipality. Each municipality has a mayor who the governor appoints. There are two engineers for each mayor; one serves as head of the services directorate, and the other works as the district engineer. As employees of the governorate, these engineers rotate from one municipality to another every up to three months.
A district’s municipal services directorate is responsible for addressing unlicensed construction within the given district. Such directorates are also tasked with granting residential and cladding permits for licensed buildings, looking into any unlicensed construction, calculating the fees and fines for violations, and preparing any necessary finance-related decisions.
The relevant municipal services directorate then sends a fact-finding committee to visit and confirm the reported site of the unlicensed construction. This committee includes municipal employees and is headed by the district engineer.
The committee relies on aerial photographs of the area taken in 2012, i.e. before the issuance of Law No. 40 of 2012, which addresses unlicensed construction. The Ministry of Local Administration took the photographs in coordination with the Ministry of Defence through an aerial survey of Damascus. Internal unlicensed structures that are not visible in the aerial photographs can still be compared with the construction plans accompanying the Land Registry documents for a building.
The district engineer identifies the unlicensed construction, writes a seizure report, and sends it to the mayor. This report includes the notification number and date, the names of the fact-finding committee members, the date of the fact-finding trip, descriptions of the violation, the results of the investigation with the building occupant, and any notes from the committee. Usually, the committee recommends demolishing the unlicensed construction. If that is the case, the committee requests that occupants do so within two days. If they fail to do so, a work crew comes to demolish it and photograph the process. The work crews are affiliated with the municipal services directorate and composed of workers the governorate employs.
A police patrol from the district always accompanies any demolition crew, often alongside a security patrol. The police officers on the scene are tasked with suppressing and arresting anyone who attempts to resist the demolition. If the perpetrator or occupant of the unlicensed construction is a military personnel member affiliated with the Ministry of Defence, the patrols from the Military Security branch and the military police accompany the demolition crew.
After demolition is complete, the municipality “closes the seizure,” meaning that the committee states that the unlicensed construction was successfully demolished on a specific date in its report. The seizure report is then sent back to the Directorate of Complaints and Grievances to inform it that the complaint about the unlicensed construction has been resolved.
Finally, the report is sent to the judiciary to follow up on the execution of Law No. 40, such as possible jail time, fines for the perpetrator, and punishment for any municipal employee who helped cover up the unlicensed construction.