Athens-based architect and Chicago native Katerina Sirouni helps owners decode Greece’s property laws. This article, part of an informative series, defines Illegal Structures (in Greek, Afthaireta), and how to make your property legal.
A Guide to Greece’s Property Laws
As a Greek American who has been educated and lives in Greece, and happens to be an architect, I am continually approached by Chicago area family and friends about how to make sense of the many changes in Greece’s property laws, codes, and taxes. As the owner and operator the architectural firm, KSirouni Architects, I help clients all over the world in design, management, and maintenance of properties, as well as navigating Greece’s new property laws. Here, will discuss what constitutes an illegal property, the penalties, and how to make your property legal. This information is critical, in that if your property isn’t compliant, you jeopardize your rights.
What is an Illegal Structure?
Perhaps you’re wondering how buildings or structures you lawfully own and declare on your taxes can be regarded as “illegal”. Let’s review the definition of “illegal structures”, as per the Greek statute.
As of September 21, 2011, when selling or transferring any property, buildings and land to family members, owners are required to submit a “Declaration of Legality”. This certificate basically states the “as-built status” of structures, meaning the exact area, dimensions and use of all buildings on-site. Not surprisingly, owners of property in Greece are unaware of what has actually been built in comparison to what has been declared on permits and deeds. Essentially, owners are typically unaware of what they actually own.
In light of the financial crisis, the Greek government has established a grace period for compliance, which grants owners the chance to legalize their property violations. The applicable penalty fine in each case varies depending on the location, type, and size and construction date of the unlicensed structures.
Common examples of violations include any closed area space and extensions to existing buildings without permits as well as enclosed balconies and verandas, garages, attics and basements converted into living space. Many landscape structures such as swimming pools, canopies and BBQs built without permits are also considered violations, therefore must be legalized.
Conduct a Legal Check During the Grace Period
While the grace period for compliance is still in effect, it is advised that owners conduct a “legal check” of their property. Even if you are not considering selling at the moment, secure what you own. Appoint a certified architect to do an on-site inspection to verify if your built property is in compliance with issued permits. I’ve performed many legal checks for my clients.
To prepare for the legal check, gather all related documents such as building permits and drawings, ownership titles, deeds and contracts of purchase. If original documents are unavailable, your architect can obtain verified copies from the authorized municipalities and public entities in which your property is registered.
Should violations be determined, declare your “illegal” property while you can. The grace period for compliance is currently effective up to February 2016 and applies for unlicensed structures built after November 30, 1955 and prior to July 28, 2011. Applications are submitted and handled online by certified architects and engineers through the Technical Chamber of Greece.
How to Declare Your Illegal Property
File a Declaration of Legality Certificate, and pay a minimum application fee of 500 Euros depending on the nature of violations. There are three options for paying off the total fine:
- pay in total, and receive a 20% discount;
- pay 30% and receive a 10% discount and pay the balance in installments; or
- pay interest-free monthly installments.
IMPORTANT: Previously, final “Declaration of Legality” Certificates, necessary for all property transactions, were only issued if the total fine was paid off; however, and in attempt to lighten the financial burden, on August 8, 2013, the Greek government amended the law to include the second payment option as well.
Why You Must Legalize Your Property
On occasion, I have clients with property violations tell me that they have no intention of legalizing their property. In fact, they believe that the Greek Government can’t possibly determine and record all existing unlicensed structures and this new regulation is yet another way for the government to collect more money, and eventually, additional property taxes.
This may be true, so if that’s the case, then why “legalize”? Simply because by Greek Law, all transactions require a “Declaration of Legality”; consequently, owners with property violations will not be able to sell, rent or transfer to family. Keep in mind, this new regulation is part of Greece’s ongoing effort to properly record all built property and ease the transfer of property. In the near future, all buildings will be registered on an electronic database and assigned a unique “Electronic Building ID Code”, a term which we will discuss at a later time.
Owners of Property in Greece Have New Requirements and Challenges
This is but a brief overview of some of the new legal challenges that affect every single property owner today. In future articles, I will go into greater detail and help explain Greece’s property laws on a practical basis and how to work through them. These laws and changes may appear overwhelming, but with the right professional, they can be handled efficiently and inexpensively.
Questions? Need assistance in Greece? Email Katerina.
First article in the series: Own Property in Greece? Read This!