Greeks living outside of the country often contact attorneys or relatives in Greece to find out the actual, legal, and tax status of real estate properties, which they have neglected for years. Foreign residents, of Greek origin or not, carried away by their everyday business and life obligations in a foreign country, quite often abandon real estate properties that they own or can claim in Greece. They may have not visited them for years and they may have not requested from relatives or friends to inspect or check on them, not even every now and then, as they should have done. Such properties may have been purchased by foreign residents a long time ago, they may have been gifted to them by family, or may be assets of an estate in Greece, which the foreign residents had settled years ago, or have not even legally accepted and need to settle now.
After all these years, a notice in Greece for taxes due, a formal letter by other building owners about management expenses, a legal notice by other joint owners of the same real estate property for the development or exploitation of the jointly owned asset, or a civil lawsuit action for division of property, a boundary dispute or an inheritance issue, will “wake up” the interest of the foreign resident about their forgotten property in Greece. This will lead to a phone call or an e-mail to a lawyer or a relative in Greece, in order to touch base with the management of their “abandoned” real estate plot, land, house, or apartment.
The foreign residents will usually want to know if and how much they have to pay for back property and other taxes, and to sort out all outstanding matters for the property or properties so that they start developing or exploiting them, or how they can transfer them to their children, or sell them.
The foreign resident must first send to the attorney in Greece any contract, deed or document related to the property, be that a purchase deed, or a deed of acceptance of estate, or any other transaction contract. If the foreign resident does not have any of the above, he/she will advise the attorney about the location (village, town or city) of the property, and the attorney should be able to make a title search in the area using the owner’s name and data, in order to identify the deeds of ownership of the property at the local land registry. More information will be needed, like whether the foreign resident has a Greek tax number (AFM), username and password for online access to the tax file, and whether the property has been declared by the owner to the tax office E9 property list and to the Ktimatologio new land registry. Any work which needs to be done in Greece for the property will be executed with a power of attorney or authorization, which the foreign resident will sign at the Greek Consulate or at a notary public with Apostille. The text of such power of attorney will be drafted by the Greek lawyer, once the attorney is briefed on the details of the case.
The legal search in Greece includes whether the property has been declared to the Ktimatologio modern land registry and if not, it will be declared now, as this is still possible in most areas of Greece. In some cases, depending on the time limits on each particular case, a court hearing and decision may be required to retroactively declare the property, to avoid the property being listed in someone else’s name or “expropriation” of the property by the state. A new, modern survey map may have to be drafted by a topographer or civil engineer if the asset is land, a plot, or a house (but not, if it is an apartment – condominium). If the property is jointly owned with others, they may have to be located so that all joint owners decide on the management of the property.
The attorney in Greece, with the power of attorney/authorization, will be able to check if property taxes are owed, although such tax is usually low, anyway. The property may have never been listed to the E9 tax list, or the owner may have never set up his/her on-line tax page, in which case it will have to be done now and the, usually low, annual property tax called ENFIA will have to be paid for the last five years, in order to bring the property up to date. The deed of ownership will be collected (from the local land registry or from a notary’s office) and the asset will be registered with every authority required by law, so that it is properly recorded in the name of the foreign resident who had “abandoned” it.
It is noteworthy that for inheritances/estates from 2003 and back, zero inheritance tax is owed. However, even if inheritance tax must be paid, because the deceased passed after 1-1-2004, close relatives usually enjoy a 150,000 – euro tax-free amount for each child and for the spouse of the deceased, making it less costly to inherit the property. Other outstanding matters may be paying utility bills, and declaring any surface built-in breach of the building regulations, which calls for legalization of the structure. The bottom line is that, whatever bureaucratic procedure is required and whatever the cost of bringing the taxes and other dues up to date, in most cases the expenses will be much lower than the market value of the abandoned property. This means that it makes sense for the owner to re-visit the long-forgotten Greek property, in order to update its legal and tax status, so that it can be transferred to children, developed, or sold.
*Christos ILIOPOULOS, attorney at
the Supreme Court of Greece, LL.M.