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Lack of zoning regulations and the problem this presents

The need for urban housing is forcing city property developers to ask pertinent questions regarding the state of the city’s urban planning and zoning regulations

Mogadishu is on the rise, and there is no better sign of this new burst of growth than the rate at which buildings are coming up in the city and splendour and grandeur of said buildings. Real estate developers and other stakeholders in the sector are assured that any project they embark on is certain to post favourable returns. The demand for property is high, and as fate would have it, supply on the contrary is low. What’s not to like?

Lined up on every side of Mogadishu streets are 8 storey commercial properties, with large conference halls and American or European styled shopping malls. Dotting the beach are resorts and hotels, some 14 storeys high. There are villas, high end residential apartments and every other empty slot of land is fenced or has a stack of blocks and a heap of sand awaiting the ground-breaking ceremony. The city is on the rise, there is just one tiny problem; unclear zoning regulations.

“Some of the key requirements for a sound real estate sector include urban planning laws, zoning regulations and land ownership guidelines.”

Without appropriate regulations and legally binding zoning guidelines, experts and developers are worried that the city might randomly and naturally develop in a way that might restrict future expansion or interfere with the planning of the city.

The worry is that in the absence of an approved (by the city administration) guideline that is enforced by city authority, developers will flout zoning regulations. With increased demand for residential establishments, there is a fear that developers will (without regulations) put up residential property in the city, a zone that is mostly recommended for high-density commercial properties. Or bend the rules and put up low cost housing estates, the kind that in most cities are often located on the outskirts of the city, within the city.

A report in 2008 by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UN High Commission for Refugees on land, property, and housing in Somalia found that ‘urban infrastructure and urban planning capacity are poor and that general infrastructure such as roads and flood control mechanisms are seriously deteriorated especially in the South.’

The report further noted that land titling system and land administration systems often do not exist, even in urban centers, and that where they do, they have very limited capacity. The consequence, according to the report, is that competing claims of ownership are very common in urban centers, especially over land parcels that were once public land.

When such public land, for example land set aside for parks or stadium or some other public recreational facility in the city is taken over by a private developer, eventually, even if it will happen after ten years, city planners will have to run into related complications. Such instances of corruption might not be happening now, but without the right laws, it is only a question of time before the need for a quick buck gets the better of some real estate developers.

Mohamed Abdi of Latalin Consultancy, a Somali real estate firm based in Nairobi, says that some of the key requirements for a sound real estate sector include urban planning laws, zoning regulations and land ownership guidelines.

“Without those three, the sector will eventually tangle itself in a web of trouble. Without the rules and regulations governing a high stakes sector like real estate, problems are bound to follow. Pessimism on the side of foreign investors is the first issue, followed by others like fraud and interference with the layout and smooth running/ set up of the city,” he explains. 

As the population of the city keeps rising and most of Mogadishu becomes urbanised, these regulations will become even more necessary. Without them, developers should expect to meet at the courts over a plethora of legal tussles.

Mohamed Abdi of Latalin Consultancy

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