Will Turkish buildings kill you?

Cansin writes*

If you’re considering buying a house in Turkey, there’s one more thing you need to check before deciding: has your house benefited from construction amnesty? While it may seem reasonable to assume that a property with a deed adheres to safety standards, this may not always be the case. The construction amnesty law, also known as the zoning peace law, allows retroactive forgiveness of structures built without zoning permission in Turkey. Populists often use it as a tool to gain votes.

In the 1950s, spurred by economic growth and population increase, migration from villages to cities began in Turkey, leading to unplanned urbanization marked by the emergence of illegal housing in urban areas; before elections in the 1950s and ’60s, policies were implemented to legitimize these structures, facilitating public access to municipal services (Yılmaz, 2023). The law was officially published for the first time in 1984 under the government of Kenan Evren (Harrington, 2023). Construction amnesties became a recurring political tradition, with the last applied in 2018.

Why is the construction amnesty law so important? What’s the problem with irregular urbanization?

The construction amnesty law is particularly dangerous because Turkey is an earthquake-prone country. One of the most devastating earthquakes was the 1999 İzmit earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.4, affecting numerous cities and resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. After the earthquake, the AKP government, which came to power in 2002, passed construction amnesties seven times, usually shortly before elections (Yılmaz, 2023). Although AKP had seen the terrible results of previous government’s amnesties, it made the same mistake — which led to catastrophe.

On February 6, 2023, Turkey – Syria earthquakes occurred, resulting in the collapse of numerous buildings and the loss of thousands of lives in both countries. The earthquake attracted significant attention in national and international media — and thus questions about government-approved, but unsafe buildings. The Guardian wrote “experts warned that retrospectively licensing illegal buildings for a fee would have fatal consequences”.

What are the risks for the future? Another major earthquake is expected in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, whose many unsafe buildings could contribute to disaster. Although efforts are being made to make risky buildings earthquake-resistant through urban renewal projects, it remains questionable whether this will be sufficient.

To avoid your home collapsing on you, don’t rely solely on the title deed. Check if your house has benefited from the construction amnesty.

Bottom line: Turkey’s construction amnesty law means that many may die when the next major earthquake levels unsafe buildings.

* Please help my Real Donut Economics** students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

** Why “Real”? In short, because (a) Raworth’s claims to being a “21st century economist” denies that all of her ideas were presented by others in the 20th century and (b) she presents no viable mechanisms (besides “be nice”) for achieving equality and sustainability. My students are more realistic. In long? Read this.

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

One thought on “Will Turkish buildings kill you?”

  1. After talking in class, I was thinking about how you could structure your report/what your research question could be. I think there are a few options (and more that I haven’t thought of, of course):
    You could do a historical analysis of why these houses were allowed to be built- looking at why the government chose to allow these houses to remain, at least it sounds to me like it is kind of accepted, and also if this is changing in recent times. You could also focus solely on the recent earthquakes and what the impacts are/will be on the law- has this tragedy led to citizens no longer accepting this while in the past they voted for it? Are politicians realizing this is no longer politically favorable? Lastly, this is less realistic but maybe you could see if any papers have conducted cost-benefit analyses on houses built legally/illegally and use that as a starting point, and maybe compare it to the costs of the building collapse.

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