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Selling One's Property on an Informal Settlement: A Praxeological Approach to a Syrian Case Study

Books and book chapters

KeywordsTriple Keywords
Acts, Legislative
Legislative enactments
Laws (Statutes)
Enactments, Legislative
Legislative acts
Property--Law and legislation
Subject (Philosophy)
Use of land
Utilization of land
Land use
Land utilization
Commonwealth, The
Business economics
Managerial economics
Science, Political
Political science
Political theory
Civil government
Political thought
Buildings--Design and construction
Building design
Western architecture (Western countries)
Architecture, Western (Western countries)
Language and languages
Foreign languages


International audience This chapter addresses the issue of how real estate transactions are organized in Damascus, in so-called informal neighbourhoods, i.e. city quarters which developed by violating the law on rural lands theoretically improper for development. There are many different practices, which may look random, yet they are shaped through a complex relationship to the law, which acknowledges the existence of informal neighbourhoods, called mukhalafat in Arabic, in different ways. We shall describe this relationship through one single case study, by analyzing documents kept by the buyer of a property: Mrs. Sabbah. The flat Mrs. Sabbah bought is located in the Palestinian refugee camp Mukhayyam al-Yarmuk. The status of its real-estate property is subject to rules different from those of other Damascus neighbourhoods. For the Land Registry Department, this land is registered as rural and belongs to the northern region of the United Arab Republic. A specific department was created in the 1940s to administer affairs related to Palestinian refugees: the Foundation for Palestinian Refugees (al-Mu'assasa li-l-laji'in al-filastiniyyin). Among its responsibilities is the administration of land in the Yarmuk area on which it has a 99 year leasehold. It is responsible for the parcelling out of the land and for its allotment to Palestinian refugees. In parallel, the municipality (baladiyya), also called the Local Council, is responsible for the issuing of building permits and the registration of house tenancy contracts. Most of the documents consulted concern real estate transactions on different properties located within the same building, on al-Ja'awna street, in the historical heart of the Camp, on a parcel containing around one hundred buildings. The specific building we are dealing with, which is not registered in the Land Registry, was built in several stages. The initial construction comprised a ground-floor and one storey. Today, the building has four storeys. The documents kept by Mrs. Sabbah and the relating real estate transactions explain how many storeys were added to the building and how they were sold. Mrs. Sabbah's file also includes water and electricity bills plus one house tenancy contract. These documents can be analyzed in two ways. First, we shall see how they describe the property for specific practical purposes and how, therefore, they do it in different ways. Second, we shall observe how this file, comprising various documents, reflects the complex history of this property, the specific language games which are attached to it, and its internal organization around principles of the contiguity of properties and the succession of legal deeds, in order to secure the buyer's property rights.

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