Three years since regime forces recaptured the city of Talbiseh in the northern part of the Homs governorate, residents are still facing difficulties in rehabilitating and repairing their properties damaged during battles and bombardment. To get around the challenges, they are partnering with real estate agents linked to the regime for connections or “wasta”.
Talbiseh is located on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, within the Rastan administrative district. Regime forces regained control of the city in mid-2018, after a reconciliation agreement. Those who did not want to take part in the reconciliation were forcibly displaced to northern Syria under the terms of the agreement. A large portion of residents remained in Talbiseh and underwent reconciliation with the regime’s security forces.
Damage wrought by the war mainly affected Talbiseh’s southern neighbourhood. Local sources estimate that more than 200 homes need rehabilitation and restoration work in that neighbourhood alone.
The main obstacle to such work is the process for obtaining a restoration licence from the Talbiseh municipality. Many residents are unable to afford paying the high fees for such licences, which currently range from SYP 18,000 to 24,000 per square metre, depending on the location of the property, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area.
The restoration licence allows owners of damaged homes to obtain specific quantities of construction materials at official prices, which are about half the cost of black market prices. The municipality may demolish homes that have been restored without a permit and confiscate any building equipment.
According to a correspondent, many homeowners are bypassing this issue by partnering with real estate agents supported by regime officials. Under such partnerships, property owners hand over up to half the shares in their property (each property in Syria consists of 2,400 shares), in exchange for obtaining the restoration licence and repairing the home at the real estate agent’s expense.
The most prominent of these agents in Talbiseh is a businessman who fled to regime-held territory when opposition forces held the city from 2014 to 2018. He can obtain construction permits due to his relationships with the security forces and city council.
According to local sources, owners of properties located near the historic Talbiseh Fortress were included within a 2014 decree to ban construction and restoration work within historic areas. Owners turned to paying bribes to members of the city council and to security personnel for protection as they restored and repaired their properties. Owners of such properties are not permitted, in any case, to obtain restoration licences.
Aerial image of Talbiseh