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>> Bulgaria >> Bulgaria ownership laws
The acquisition of real estate under Bulgarian law is regulated mainly by the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Ownership Act, the Ownership and Use of Agricultural Land Act and the Civil Procedure Code. The tax, charges and fees payable upon acquisition are laid down in the Local Taxes and Charges Act, the Tariff for Notary Fees to the Notaries and Notary Activities Act, the Tariff No 1 to the State Tariffs Act and other tax legislation.
According to the Constitution the right of ownership is guaranteed and protected by law and private property is inviolable. Compulsory alienation of the right of ownership for state or municipal needs is possible only under an Act, under the condition that these needs cannot be satisfied in another way and only after prior and equal value compensation.
Further, it provides that foreign individuals and legal persons cannot acquire the right of ownership over land except in the event of intestacy. In this case they have to dispose of the land within three years. They may acquire the right to use the land, to build on it and other real rights over land. The above restriction does not apply to rights of ownership over buildings, but will apply to the land upon which they wish to build. If foreign individuals or legal persons would like to own land in Bulgaria they can do this by establishing a company there.
Under Bulgarian law a person can acquire a right of ownership over a building separately from the underlying land. If the building is an existing one the previous owner need merely transfer the right of ownership over the building. Further, it is possible for an owner of a land to transfer the right to build upon it, which is a real right, and after the completion of the construction the holder of the right to build will become the owner of that building. If the owner of a building does not own the underlying land he may use the land but only as far as it is necessary for the use of the building, according to its designation, unless otherwise stated in the deed transferring the right of ownership over the building or the right to build. According to case law the owner of the building may use the land only to gain access to the entrance and to the area around the building in order to maintain it in a normal and fit for use condition. Practical implications of this restriction could be to prevent the parking of a car on the land or use of the garden.
The right of ownership of real estate is transferred in the form of notary deed. The notary deed is a type of contract whose form and content are prescribed by law. It is executed by a notary within whose region the real estate is located. As the notary is under obligation to check the identity of the parties, their capacity, the authority of the representatives and the good title of the transferor, the process of execution of the notary deed offers considerable security. After the deed is executed it is registered by a registry judge upon request of the notary.
A typical preliminary step before the execution of the notary deed is the conclusion of a preliminary agreement for the sale and purchase of real estate which imposes an obligation on the parties to respectively sell and buy the agreed real estate for the agreed price within an agreed period if certain conditions are met. This gives the purchaser time to check the title of the transferor and for any encumbrances such as real rights and mortgages registered on it. For instance, if a building is protected as a cultural monument there may be restrictions on changing its façade or outlook. As different restrictions may apply to each building a check with the competent authority – the National Institute for Cultural Monuments - need be made. Within this time the seller obtains a valuation of the property for tax purposes and a certificate that he does not have tax liabilities against the state from the tax authorities, a certified sketch of the property from the local authority and he will sign a declaration that he does not have any other public obligations against the state and the municipality, without which the notary deed cannot be executed. After the checks are made and the documents obtained the parties and the notary will execute the notary deed.
Where a purchaser wishes to buy a building in the process of construction the right of ownership cannot be acquired and the notary deed not executed before the building is completed and all necessary approvals by the relevant authorities required by law obtained. The legal means to bind the building company to sell and the purchaser to buy on completion of the building is a preliminary agreement for the sale and purchase of real estate. The practice is that the purchaser will pay the purchase price in instalments related to the stage of construction. As this transaction involves a greater risk a detailed check of all company documents available from the building company in relation to the construction of the building, such as construction permit, approved architectural plans etc, is needed, depending on the stage of construction. Further, a detailed preliminary agreement must be prepared stating the exact requirements of the purchaser as to the construction of the building, for instance installation of central heating, alarm system, the liability of the building company for each case of default and non-compliance with the numerous and strict construction laws and regulations, liquidated damages for non-performance of the obligations as to quality and time of each party etc.
Upon execution of the notary deed certain taxes, charges and fees are due. A 2% local tax levied upon the price agreed between the parties, or the valuation of the property by the tax authorities, whichever is higher, is due. No local tax will be due if the building is a cultural monument and is not used for commercial purposes. Further, a notary fee depending on the price of the property – again agreed price or tax valuation, whichever is higher, is payable. For instance, for properties between BGN 50,000 and 100,000 the notary fee is BGN 318.5 plus 0.2 per cent on the excess above BGN 50,000. Thirdly, a charge for the registration of the notary deed by the registry judge need be paid, amounting to 0.1 per cent of the price.
Transactions of land for residential purposes are not subject to VAT.
Subject to some exceptions, the owner of a real estate is obliged to pay an annual local real estate tax amounting to 0.15 per cent of the valuation of the property as conducted by the tax authorities on an annual basis. In addition, waste-collection charges determined by the municipality are due.
Income from rent of real estate owned by a foreign person who does not act through a permanent establishment will be subject to 15% withholding tax unless otherwise stipulated in a tax treaty between Bulgaria and the country of nationality of the owner. Rental income of a company decreased by legally recognised expenses and depreciation will be subject to corporate tax.
The above represents a general overview of the legal regime of acquisition and taxation of real estate in Bulgaria as of August 2004. It does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. The author does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information given. Please contact a lawyer for professional advice for your particular circumstances.