Bulgaria lifts land sale ban

SOFIA – Bulgaria, looking ahead to its hoped-for admission to the European Union in 2007, yesterday lifted a ban that prevents foreigners from buying land in the former communist country. Bulgaria has already become the focus of a British property-buying spree in the last couple of years, rural house hunters finding ways to avoid legislation. In Parliament yesterday, MPs from all political parties voted for the amendments on land sales in Bulgaria’s constitution, bringing it into compliance with EU legislation. There will be, however, a seven-year transition period before foreigners who are not permanent residents of Bulgaria at the time can buy land. «Foreigners and their legal representatives can acquire the right of property over land under the conditions, following Bulgaria’s EU accession, under an international agreement entering into force for Bulgaria, or through inheriting it,» read the text of the amendment that finally legalized land sale to foreign citizens. The Bulgarian press has recently reported on an increasing number of foreigners who have registered companies in the country in order to be entitled to acquire property here despite the law. «Fifty British (citizens) have registered companies in Veliko Tarnovo (central Bulgaria) in order to buy a house there,» the Bulgarian Monitor daily reported on Thursday. «Land for foreigners? But they’ve already got it,» the Sega daily commented as far back as last November, saying that «until our MPs dawdle, debate and gambol over constitutional changes, there will soon be hardly anything to change.» «Legislation indeed was not holding anybody back from buying land here,» Paul Kornreich, a real estate company owner, told AFP. Led by the concern that foreigners are going to buy cheap agricultural land and use it for industrial purposes, the left-wing Bulgarian Socialist Party proposed during debates in Parliament that only EU citizens be authorized to buy land and only if they intend to use it for farming. The proposition failed to get other parties’ support but was widely backed by popular opinion. A poll conducted by the MBMD agency in November showed that 65 percent of a total of 1,216 people surveyed were against land sales to non-EU citizens. «It might be good for my business, but I am absolutely against it. Foreigners are all set to make money out of property bought for chicken feed,» said Nadia Zafirova, a real estate company manager from Sofia. «Most people usually buy land for some bigger project development like building business centers, hotels, malls. Not a single person I have talked to said they are going to buy land to farm it,» Paul Kornreich added. But most real estate agents do not really expect a rise in the number of «property speculators» as they call those aiming only at profit. «Legislative changes should not be regarded as opening the flood gates to industrial companies, but to ordinary people. If a major buyout of land for industrial purposes was to happen, it was going to happen anyway, despite the ban,» Adrian Musgrave, who has already bought a house in Bulgaria, told AFP. Adrian and his wife settled in the village of Nikolaevo near Sliven in the southeast last September and are now helping other British people to buy what they call «the dream of a rural house with a garden, flower beds and fruit trees everybody is looking for but cannot get hold of in the UK.» «This is heaven. British people would die for this,» Adrian explained. His expectations are that constitutional amendments will spark a wave of «keen property buyers who will buy land to build houses and live here.»

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