Building violations have increased in the western Aleppo city of Afrin since 2021, amid the local council’s inability to combat the trend and as the real estate market remains at the behest of real estate contractors linked to armed opposition factions. The rise in building violations appears to be a result of increased demand for housing in a part of Syria that has become the destination for many forcibly displaced people.
The building violations refers to any construction on public property or without a license on private property, or outside the area specified within a zoning plan. It may also be any construction that violates structural safety norms.
Afrin has witnessed widespread illegal construction since 2021, especially in Sharaa Al-Faylat, the city’s newest and largest neighbourhood. The most common violations are when building owners and contractors coordinate to build additional storeys. Those additional storeys also constructed on the roofs of buildings that had been extorted by opposition factions, under the pretext that the owners of these buildings had belonged to the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkish-backed opposition factions took control of the Afrin region in 2018 during Operation Olive Branch. The campaign displaced many of the area’s original residents, most of whom are Kurds. Gross violations of housing, land and property rights ensued.
According to a source close to the Afrin Local Council, both Arab and Kurdish construction contractors involved in the recent spate of building violations have ties to opposition factions and share profits with them. The contractors also have good relations with the Afrin Local Council, which is in turn affiliated with the opposition. The contractors have become so powerful that nobody can obstruct their violations, the source said.
The construction violations extend to other areas of the city as well, such as the Afrin River Belt, where construction is banned under the city’s old zoning plans. Building violations have also sprung up in the Afrin-Azaz Highway area, which is outside the zoning plans for Afrin city. Informal housing has meanwhile appeared in Hay Al-Boubana and the Been Al-Jisreen area.
The source added that the local council’s police force can organise a control against a contractor if someone lodges a complaint against him. The police then send the control to the local council legal office, which in turn sends it to the court. These procedures take a significant amount of time, during which time a contractor can finish building the additional storeys, or even an entire building. For this reason, the court usually only ends up punishing the contractors financially through fines, while the building violation remains in place.
Even when a court order is issued to remove the building violation, it is difficult to implement amid a lack of centralised authority in opposition-controlled territory, and a general failure to adopt clear laws for such removal. Even in areas of Syria that are under regime control, where the provisions of Law No. 40 for 2012 for removing building violations apply, actual implementation of the law is subject to regional and local concerns. In many cases, bribery and corruption by municipal council employees prevent implementation. Law No. 40 imposes a penalty of up to three years imprisonment for constructing storeys above the predetermined limit, and stipulates that the illegally constructed storeys be demolished.
To grant a construction permit, the Afrin Local Council requires applicants to submit documents proving their ownership of the property, the cadastral plan, and an engineering study by the Chamber of Engineers,as well as a payment of 300 Turkish liras to cover municipal and engineering fees. However, many original title deeds have been lost or damaged and many residents have been displaced from the area, hindering the issuance of new construction permits. This in turn causes an increase in building violations without the proper permits. Facing this dilemma, the Afrin Local Council recently began accepting urgent sales contracts and declarations before the judiciary or through power of attorney, similar to the process that has been adopted across Afrin for documenting real estate sales.