The wave of construction violations in Egypt has significantly swelled after the January 2011 Revolution. Although there are no official statistics on the volume of violations, nonetheless, in the first six months of 2016 alone, the Giza governorate issued more 2,100 decrees to remove building violations.
The continued growth of these informal and violating buildings, and with home-seekers starting to inhabit these buildings, a demand for electricity access was created, leaving residents no option but illegally accessing power connections from neighboring districts.
This led the Ministry of Electricity to issue a decision in May allowing for the installation of electricity meters for violating buildings to stop them from stealing cables from other buildings. This action is guaranteed by the 2015 New Electricity Law.
However, the recent decision did not stop the governorates from targeting construction violations. The Fayoum governorate has recently ordered a wave of demolitions in a campaign aimed at eradicating illegal buildings on agricultural land. The local council in Obour City also ordered a demolition campaign in August.
Amid this wave of demolitions and contestations over the position of these illegal buildings – many of which provide housing for segments of society that are otherwise unable to access it – it is pertinent to note the different types of construction violations, which can be listed as follows:
- Building without construction permit
- Building on state-owned lands
- Building on agriculture lands
- Building extra floors
- Occupying additional spaces from the road compared to the allowed space in the permit
Violations Addressed by the Unified Construction Law
The 119/2008 Unified Construction Law, which governs construction works, specifies violations such as building without a license or violating standards and specifications mentioned in the permit, such as the number of floors, space allocated for parking, or installing elevators without licenses.
According to the executive regulation of the law, the local council in the area will provide a warning for construction violations to be resolved within 15 days. If not addressed, the legal department of the council will review the penalty required, according to the size of the violation.
The parliament is currently reviewing amendments to the law. MP Moataz Mahmoud, who is a member in the housing committee, told local media in September that the amendments include extending license of building duration to three years instead of one year, reducing the number of procedures and fees required to obtain the license. Additionally, they include issuing the license in 12 days, transferring the authority of issuing building licenses from local councils to accredited consultancy offices, which will also be responsible for addressing construction violations
Mahmoud said the law amended is expected to be drafted before the end of 2016.
Under the provisions of the same law, building without permits is criminalized. Article 102 in the law orders penalties of jail, spanning between 24 hours and five years depending on the size and type of the violation. It also orders a fine at a value not less than the value of the violation.
Construction licenses/permits can be obtained from municipal authorities, which determine the specifications and standards of buildings. Unlicensed buildings cannot officially obtain water, electricity, and natural gas facilities.
In this regard, Egypt ranks 64th globally in issuing construction permits, according to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2016. The full report showed 21 different procedures to complete construction, from obtaining the site validity license to water and electricity connection.
New Law to Allow for Reconciliation
The housing ministry drafted a law in 2014 to allow reconciliation with construction violations, which it said significantly increased after the January 2011 revolution.
The Cabinet, headed by then-prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab, approved the law to be valid for six months. However, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi rejected it.
Assistant to the Minister of Housing for Technical Affairs, Khaled Abbas, told local media at the time that it is “only postponed” until the ministry demolish all major construction violations, in order not to open the door for more violations.
The draft law included articles allowing reconciliation in violations that defy construction safety, pending inspection by the Housing and Building National Research Center (HBRC), and building on car parks, antiquities areas and state-owned lands.
Regarding the inspection conducted by the HBRC, construction engineer Amr Sobhi explained that an affiliated agency provides a technical inspection on issuing of construction permits, investigates compliance of issued permits with the construction regulations, and inspects safety in buildings with regards to security and fire control systems. The agency also inspects the foundation and the reinforced concrete used in construction, and provides recommendations to local councils of developers have violated building specifications in the buildings.
The now-seated parliament started discussing the draft law in May, with the housing committee proposing adding an item to include building on arable lands. Head of the committee Moataz Hassan told state-owned Al Ahram in July that the law will be effective for one or two years.
Constitutionality vs. Potential Source of Revenue
The committee said the law will generate more revenues for the state treasury; however, other analysts said it violates Article 29 of the 2014 Constitution that stipulates the protection of the arable lands.
The parliament is still studying the draft law and it has not been discussed in a general parliament session yet.
Head of the housing sector in the ministry Nefisa Hashem explained to local media in September that the law will deal with already-existing buildings, but the violations that will be constructed after the law ratification will be demolished immediately, she said. The violations will be valued according to the building site and governorate.
Upon the law’s ratification, the violators will be asked to submit requests for reconciliation to the housing ministry, then a special committee will review the proposals in a period of no more than four months, Hassan said.
The revenues from the reconciliation fees will later be spent on sanitation and water networks. Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly said in a November 29 statement that he will approve a proposal to allocate 50% of collected fines for sanitation projects.
Building on agriculture lands is already criminalized by the 1966 Agriculture Law and its amendments. Under that law, violators are obliged to pay a fine between EGP 10,000 and EGP 50,000, in addition to demolishing the building.
The Ministry of Agriculture is strongly opposing the draft law. Minister of Agriculture Essam Fayed said in August that there are more than 563,000 cases of building violations on agricultural lands from January 2011 to mid-2016, spread on a total area of 69,000 feddans. Between the state plan to expand inhabited areas, along with major reclamation efforts, it remains to be seen how the new law will affect housing patterns and the budget of the cash-strapped government.