With Beirut as its capital, the Lebanese Republic overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and borders with Syria to the North and the East and with Israel to the south. 89 percent of the 6 million inhabitants live in urban centres, mostly along the coast, 6 percent of its 10,230 Kms surface is built-up, 32 percent is agricultural, and the remain parts are covered by grass, shrubs, rocks or forest.
Traditionally considered a middle-income country, Lebanon’s economy has been declining due to the combined effects of regional conflicts, COVID-19 pandemic, and the Beirut port explosion.
Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees scattered throughout urban and rural communities, putting additional strain on the already impoverished host communities and adding to the demand for affordable housing and basic services.
Legal and institutional framework
The Lebanese Constitution of 1926, as amended, protects land rights. It, however, does not provide for the rights to adequate housing, protection from forced eviction and water, and it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex.
The land sector is regulated by a combination of Medjelle and Ottoman laws, provisions from the civil code and more recent separate additions. Personal law is contingent to the different confessions existing in the country and regulate many aspects of access to land and property, including inheritance. The influence of Islamic land law is significant, but to a lesser extent than in other countries in the Arab region.
The lack of a land policy in Lebanon is affecting the relevance of some land-related legislation. This often results in overlapping rules and regulations and hampers good land governance.
Regarding the institutional framework, under the prime minister, the Lebanese government is organized into 21 ministries. Ten of these ministries manage different land-related functions through their sub-entities, such as the General Directorate of Land Registration and Cadastre under the Ministry of Finance; the Directorate General of Urbanism and the Directorate General of Roads and Buildings under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport; and the Directorate of Geographic Affairs of the Lebanese Army under the Ministry of Defense.
Private sector, civil society organizations, academic institutions and religious communities also play a key role in the Lebanese land sector. However, limited availability of data and access to information hinder the coordination between the various land stakeholders impacting their capacity to work together effectively to deliver good land governance.
Different legal systems coexist in Lebanon. Statutory, customary, religious and informal mechanisms, each with specific written or unwritten norms and practices, contribute to govern the land and its resources.
The formal land tenure system is based on the Civil Law from the time of the French Protectorate. The Land Property Code enacted in 1930, as amended, identifies five main types of land rights: (1) Mulk or private property; (2) Amiri or state-owned land with disposition rights for individuals; (3) Metrouke murfaka or land owned by the State but subjected to collective use rights; (4) Metrouke mehmi or State land at the governorate or municipality level that is part of the public domain; and Khalie Mubah, amiri land that has not been demarcated and is considered state property.
The customary land tenure system origins from the musha’a, a special type of tenure whereby land is held as a unit by a corporate body, such as a village. Communal land was divided in individual shares among the members of the community who retained independence on the use of the land. Nowadays, the effects of such tenure system can be observed in the long narrow fields and fragmented holdings characterizing the rural landscape of Lebanon. Although French Mandate Authorities planned to eliminate communal land, customary use rights continued to be practiced in most villages. As a result, the present status of musha’a land as an independent category in the land registry is not clear; it overlaps with part of amiri land, part of metrouke murfaka land and all metrouke mehmi land.
Another form of customary land tenure is the agricultural land use rights known as muzara’a wa musaqat (cultivation and watering) whereby the landowner allows the farmer to cultivate his/her land in exchange of a share the harvest. The Lebanese Code of Obligations and Contracts provides that lands under muzara’a wa musaqat are governed by special texts and by the local custom without the need of a written agreement among the parties.
The religious land tenure system, called awqaf or religious endowment lands, regards land that has been entrusted to a religious organization for a charitable or social purpose. The awqaf institutions, which can be Muslim and Christian, play an important role in the management of Lebanese land, as they hold about 30 per cent of private land and offer many possibilities for land use, such as land concessions or rental. Recent research on agricultural waqf lands in the Beirut region concludes that agricultural waqf land are more resilient than private lands to the negative effects of urbanization.
The informal land tenure system includes land uses that have varying degrees of recognition and legality: “regularized” and un-regularized squatting, unauthorized subdivisions of formally owned land, unofficial rental arrangements, etc. In some cases, several forms of tenure may co-exist on the same plot, with different parties entitled to different rights.
The formal land registration system is based on a parcel-based digital cadastral system operated by the General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre. Most built up urban areas have already been demarcated and registered. As only legally recognized and demarcated properties can be registered at the Real Estate Registry, customary land rights and informal settlements are not included.
Several legislations regulate land valuation in Lebanon. The basis for property valuation is found in the Property Tax Law (or Built Property Tax), in the Expropriation Law and in the Rental law. Further, each year, the Ministry of Finance establishes the estimated value of land and immovable property in the various regions of the country which serves as the minimum threshold for the application of taxes and levies payable at the time of their transfer.
The property tax ranges from 4 to 14 per cent of the property value and it is applied to all properties located within Lebanon, apart from properties owned by the government, religious authorities, political parties and foreign governments, hospitals, agricultural land, and undeveloped urban properties.
The capital gains tax on sale of property is assessed based on the difference between the property price at the time of ownership and its price at the time of disposal or sale, with a tax rate of 15 per cent in accordance with the Lebanese income tax law, as amended. Additionally, upon registering the transfer of property ownership, six per cent of the purchase price is levied (transfer tax) along with other applicable fees and taxes (stamp duty). In case of inheritance, testacy, or gifts, the transfer tax is applied on the net value of the share of heirs and tax rates vary according to the degree of relationship.
Overall, there’s limited access to land value-related information in the country with implications on revenues and sustainable land management, leaving space for corruption and often resulting in the registration of lower-than-market values.
Through the years, Lebanon’s urbanization was not sustained by specific state policies or plans. This impacted the provision of basic services and the implementation of efficient mobility plans, particularly in urban areas, and the management of natural resources. To respond to this issue, the National Council of Scientific Research (CNRS) has developed a land use classification system, which consists of seven main categories (Atlas du Liban):
Build up areas: 650 km2, 6 per cent;
Agricultural use: 3.300 km2, 32 per cent;
Forest and other woodland: 2.600 km2, 25 per cent;
Shrubs and Vegetation cover: 3.200 km2, 31 per cent;
Wetlands: 5 km2, 0 per cent;
Open land and rocks: 500 km2, 5 per cent;
Water bodies: 15 km2, 0 per cent.
The urban exploitation of the green cover in Lebanon continues beyond the classified land with urban encroachment on rangelands, forests, and other green cover at the expense of further water depletion. To combat the mismanagement of land use and protect the non-renewable land resources against overexploitation, different ministries have developed strategic plans for managing natural resources.
The 2015-2019 Strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture aims at improving food security, the socio-economic revenue of the agricultural sector and the sustainable management of natural resources through good land governance, investment in the fisheries and aquaculture, and modernization of irrigation systems. The 2015-2025 National Forest Program aims at restoring degraded lands and increasing the Lebanese forest cover while meeting the ecological, social and economic needs of sustainable forest management at regional scale.
Finally, the 2003 National Action Program to Combat Desertification of the Ministry of Agriculture aims at providing a guiding framework for the long-term implementation of the UN Convention Counter Desertification in Lebanon to combat desertification, mitigate the effects of drought and alleviate poverty.
The country does not have a unified national framework and a dedicated institution to guide the planning process at the policy level. The main tools related to planning and planning frameworks are the National Physical Master Plan of the Lebanese Territory, the Physical Master Plans and the Strategic Plans, while planning functions are shared among different ministries and public agencies: the Council for Development and Reconstruction, the Directorate General of Urbanism, the Higher Council for Urban Planning and at times the municipalities.
With respect to the land and housing market, the pre-Civil War boom of construction has been followed by a period of stagnation during the war (1975-1990) where prices increased but never decreased. After the war, the country witnessed again a construction boom in all its areas, and especially in Beirut, until the late ‘90s. Nowadays, the Lebanese property market remains depressed and aggravated by defaults on housing loans, freeze in transactions, increasing requirements of cash dollar payments, and lack of capital inflows. The housing market is the only mean to access housing as there are no public affordable housing schemes in the country. In 2011, the Ministry of Social Affairs developed a national strategy for social development which aimed at improving the living conditions in informal settlements by providing housing grants, and improving basic infrastructure, sewage systems and the overall physical conditions of buildings.
Land expropriation - According to the Expropriation Law, the State can expropriate land in the public interest against the payment of a prior and equitable compensation. Compensation is a financial award established by the Expropriation Committee which can be appealed to the Appeal Committee by the affected party. The decisions of the Appeal Committee are binding on both parties. Despite the fact that the Lebanese law of expropriation only compensates those with legal rights, mechanisms exist to protect various forms of customary rights adjusted on a case-by-case basis by the Expropriation Committee (World Bank, 2014).
Land dispute resolution
Land-related disputes are common in Lebanon. The most common types of disputers are about ownership over non-surveyed areas, inheritance issues, and encroachment and illegal occupation of private or state-owned properties. The formal justice system is the main mechanism for resolving land-related disputes. It includes the Single Real Estate Judge; the First Instance Courts Ruling on Real Estate Matters; the Conseil d’Etat which has limited jurisdiction defined by the law in land expropriation cases; and the Judicial Committee Ruling on Housing Land Disputes established to investigate disputes arising from the implementation of the Housing Law of 1965.
Currently, the legislative landscape is evolving towards the use of arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to reduce cumbersome court’s litigation procedures and to resolve disputes equitably and expeditiously. Lebanon does not have a special Arbitration Code, the provisions related to arbitration (domestic and international) are imbedded in the second chapter of the Lebanese Code of Civil Procedure. Mediation, by tribal and religious leaders, is commonly used to resolve land disputes in non-surveyed and unregistered land held informally.
Women and land
According to article 7 of the Constitution, women have the same rights as men to conclude contracts and own and administer properties. However, due to customary norms, to “keep the wealth in the family” land is often registered under the name of a male relative, even if this is in contradiction with inheritance laws.
There is no comprehensive data on women’s land ownership in Lebanon, particularly because the country’s land is not fully registered and many land tenure rights are held informally or customarily. However, some information exist. Women represent only 7 per cent of the agriculture land holders taking decisions over resources and managing agricultural holdings. At the end of 2021, according to the General Directorate for Land Registry and Cadaster, 17 percent of the registered real estate properties (1,055,482 properties) were owned by women; 32 percent were owned by men (1,950 809 properties), while the remaining ones did not have an indication of the sex of the owner.
The Lebanese Constitution guarantees equality before the law, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex. Land laws are gender neutral, but discriminations are found in other laws impacting housing, land and property rights. This is the case of the Nationality Law of 1925, as amended, which does not allow Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men to pass their nationality to their children; this prevents them from automatically passing their real estate properties to their children through inheritance, due to the principle of international reciprocity. Further, personal status laws do not recognize the value of (women’s) unpaid domestic labour nor the concept of joint marital property. This is a major issue that deprives women of their share of family properties and often leaves them without a home in case of divorce.
Housing Land and Property Rights issues of refugees
Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon do not have full access to housing, land and property rights. Most of them live in twelve refugee camps managed by UNRWA, while a sizeable minority lives in informal settlements in rural areas. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not have the right to own housing and land and, in 2001, the amendment to the law of foreign acquisition of property in Lebanon, officially prohibited them from acquiring real rights through inheritance or purchase. Over the years, refugees have acquired some informal property rights where they live, but they are not protected by the law (NRC, 2014).
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, the large influx of refugees in Lebanon has been adding pressure on the already limited availability of public services, infrastructure, and affordable housing in the country leading to an increase of rent costs. This has affected the land tenure security of local communities and of refugees who struggle to access safe, affordable and adequate housing. Most Syrian refugees have been securing shelter through informal markets which provide a higher level of responsiveness, flexibility, and relative affordability compared to the formal one. However, this often underlines poor housing quality, insecurity of tenure, and other health and environmental shortcomings, such as land degradation, soil and water contamination. Further, in many cases, the domestic law along with international standards protecting the housing, land, and property rights of Syrian refugees were not upheld leading to repeated threats and harassment, and even forced eviction, against the refugee community (UNHCR and UN-Habitat, 2014).
If you would like to know more about this work, please contact UN-Habitat.
Special Focus: Safeguarding evidence of housing, land and property rights of Syrian refugees
Since 2020, UN-Habitat and the Global Land Tool Network in partnership with GIZ have been working in Lebanon and Iraq to improve the land tenure security and safeguard the housing, land and property rights of Syrian refugees therein displaced.
Using a land and property recordation tool and through a rigorous participatory and voluntary enumeration process, the intervention documents Syrian refugees’ claims to their residential and non-residential properties in Syria. The claims documented include full ownership, joint ownership, long- and short-term use rights. A wide range of legally recognized and additional types of evidence are accepted and safeguarded, as well as supporting personal documentation. Verification of the housing, land and property rights claimed by the claimant is not undertaken, but the information collected is safely stored in dedicated data units of UN-Habitat.
As part of the project, ‘Certificates of Collection and Safeguarding of Tenure Relationship Documents’ are issued by UN-Habitat. The certificates are not a proof of ownership but testify the adopted due process through which the claimant submitted his/her claim to the properties described in the certificate and the related supporting evidence. Certificates are handed over to the claimants at no fee and can be used by the beneficiaries to retrieve information about their properties and the supporting evidence enclosed.
This project is designed to support future efforts to re-possess properties illegally occupied, transacted or destroyed or to claim compensation. The participation in the project does not have any consequence on the beneficiaries’ status in the country or residence nor to their return to Syria.
Legislative and Administrative Land and Property Rights’ Framework - In 2020, UN-Habitat and the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) conducted a baseline study, as part of a broader regional work, aiming at reviewing land-related policies, laws, and institutional frameworks in the country. Read the full report
Land and climate change - Since 2020, UN-Habitat, the Global Land Tool Network and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) with the support of BMZ have collaborated on the land and climate change portfolio, looking at the role of land tenure security and good land governance for combating land degradation and climate change, with specific focus on pastoral land and rangelands. A regional study with country case studies was developed and an expert group meeting on land governance and climate change and an expert group meeting on pastoral and range lands were held.
National campaign on women’s land rights is being implemented, in collaboration with national civil society partners. It is linked to the regional campaign on women and land.
Beirut Land Dialogues: pathways towards recovering the social value of urban land – Twinning arrangements between regional and international land stakeholders are being supported by the Arab Land Initiative. In this context, the American University of Beirut and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy organized the Beirut Land Dialogues, a series of deliberative workshops that brought together stakeholders from the urban land sector to discuss the role of land in the national economy, assess past practices and forge possible pathways for a more equitable future.
Assessment of the Land Sector in Lebanon: Background paper - This background paper was developed by independent consultants in collaboration with the Urban Training and Studies Institute of Egypt in preparation of the regional report Governing Land in the Middle East that covers eleven countries in the Middle East. Each paper explores and gives an indication of the country’s capacities in delivering good land governance by measuring its performance on the core land administration functions: land tenure, land value, land use, land development and land disputes resolution. It also maps the existing learning offer on land governance, identifying the key institutions and the courses available.
Research papers and case studies – The Arab Land Initiative facilitated and supported the production of several research papers and case studies on Lebanon: (1) Land as a cash machine, (2) Recent events in Lebanon and their effect on land degradation, (3) Land use & land cover changes and the link with groundwater in Nahr Al-Jaouz River Basin, (4) Enhancing accountability and transparency of public land governance through open access tools, (5) Land, climate and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and (6) Land and conflict: interstate war lives on in the soil, threatening lives and livelihoods in Lebanon.
HLP rights for Syrian refugees - UN-Habitat, the Global Land Tool Network and GIZ collaborated on the a research project on “Housing, Land and Property (HLP) Rights Challenges Faced in Syria by Refugees Currently Living in Lebanon – Humanitarian Response”. The report analyses and identifies trends and patterns of HLP issues that Syrian refugees currently residing in Lebanon face in their areas of origin in Syria and looks at solutions offered by the country’s current legal and institutional framework. The policy brief outlines a set of recommendations geared towards preserving the HLP rights of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon back in Syria. Contact UN-Habitat for further information on this research project.
Safeguarding evidence of housing, land and property rights of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon - Since 2020, UN-Habitat and the Global Land Tool Network in partnership with GIZ have been working in Lebanon and Iraq to improve the land tenure security and safeguard the housing, land and property rights of Syrian refugees therein displaced.
The information contained in this page is based on the body of knowledge developed by UN-Habitat, GLTN and the Arab Land Initiative’s partners. The designations employed and the presentation of the material do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area, or of its authorities, or concerning delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries, or regarding its economic system or degree of development. The information may contain inaccuracies due to the data source(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of UN-Habitat or its governing bodies.
The Lebanon page is still under construction. Share with us any relevant information, resource or correction to enrich our library. Contact the Arab Land Initiative at email@example.com !