Explained: Ownership, Possession and Housing Rights in Syrian Legislation

The right of ownership has received the greatest amount of attention in Syrian legislation, while possession rights have received little and housing rights are almost completely absent.

Right of Ownership

Successive Syrian constitutions have drawn a general framework for the right of ownership. Civil Law No. 84 of 1949 laid out provisions for ownership in articles 768 through 935. Under this law, the right of ownership resides within the type of property—whether it is movable or immovable. The law also grants the owner the right to use, exploit and dispose of this property, presupposing that they have proof of their right of ownership. The right of ownership requires perpetuity, and cannot be taken from the owners except in accordance with provisions specified by the constitution

The statute of limitations does not apply to the right of real estate ownership recorded in the real estate register, as it remains under the authority of its owner even if he leaves it and does not use it. However, under civil law, ownership rights may be forfeited due to lack of use in some cases, such as lands distributed by the state under the Agrarian Reform Law, or forfeiture of the right to dispose of land grants after failing to plough or otherwise use them for a period of five years.

Right of Possession

Possession is when a person effectively has control over something, as they are either the owner or have a right to it, such as by usufruct. In contrast to ownership, possession is a temporary condition, in which there is sufficient justification or legitimate reason to hold the property, and does not necessarily mean that the holder is the owner of the property, as in the case of the creditor or mortgagee of the property. Possession must have both the material and moral elements in place in order to be complete: it requires the possession of the holder, as well as getting ahold of the property and carrying out material work such as cultivating it if it is agricultural land. The holder must also have the intention to use the property and appear as the owner would.

Right to Housing

In contrast to rights of ownership and possession, Syria’s legislature does not endow the right to housing on its own with importance, whether in the constitution or in laws. The right to housing has not been specified, although its protection has been mentioned in some special cases. Article 302 of the Code of Civil Procedure does not permit executive seizure of a house whose area, value or condition does not exceed the needs of the debtor. If it does exceed the debtor's needs, it is possible to seize the house and sell it, and then purchase a residence for the debtor that is suitable for his situation, provided that the debts are paid.

Overlaps and Differences

The right of ownership in general can include the rights of possession and housing, while the right of possession can itself include the right to housing. As for the right to housing on its own, it is an individual’s right to obtain housing for themself and their family, along with the basic requirements to ensure an adequate standard of living.

Attacks against possession and ownership constitute property extortion, a crime under the Syrian Penal Code of 1949. However, the legal mechanisms to protect the right of ownership and the right of possession differ.