“No one has the right to build a house, in addition to his own and that of his heirs,” wrote Qaddafi in his Green Book, the Bible of his Libyan socialism.

The law, which also applies to land and cars, allowed those who did not themselves own property to seize land, real estate, or vehicles – by force if necessary – and provided that the property’s owner held more than one piece of real estate, that seizure was legal. Afterward, that land belonged to those who had seized it, not the state. But in practice, the supposedly socialist law often served the interests of Qaddafi and his clan, says an association representing property owners.

The tangle of claims now falls to the Libyan government, which estimates it will take at least two years to even begin to clarify who owns what in Libya. This has created a chaotic situation that is scaring away the investors which Libya so badly needs after its civil war.

“This [situation] is putting a brake on investment,” says Yannil Belbachir, a member of a Franco-Libyan legal practice in Tripoli. “When a foreign company wants to set up operations, it has to make enquiries to find out if someone will demand that land back later on.”