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Buying Property In Greece: Beware The Squatter" s Law

Greece is currently a Mediterranean hotspot for foreign property buyers. Many European Union nationals are investing lifelong savings in holiday properties or land for development. This is particularly true for British and Irish expatriates who head the list of private foreign real estate investors, notably in Crete, the Peloponese and the other Greek islands. This article cautions any prospective foreign buyer to ensure that their appointed lawyer in Greece checks out that any old home or land being acquired has not changed ownership under the Greek "Squatters Rights" Law.

What is the Squatters Law?

The law relates to rights of ownership that remain with the original absent owners unless changed through a Notary Public and a legal process.

A typical scenario would be a relative who emigrated overseas in the dark post war years in Greece of the late 1940s and 1950s when the economy was in a very poor shape, and left their family village home/property in the 'capable' hands of another family member, or close neighbour who remained in the village.

Incidentally, another wave of emigration took place in the 1960's and 1970s, when a lot of men from places such as Crete and Thessaloniki went to work in the German automotive industry in Bavaria, southern Germany and other manufacturing areas of Northern Europe including the United Kingdom.

Many of these overseas workers and family members settled abroad have never come back to Crete and so leaving their property, still in the "safe keeping" and trusted hands of someone back in their home village or town.

But with recent substantial property price increases, some of the local relatives have sold the village houses in their 'own right' to foreigners.

How could this possibly happen?

Any Greek head of household can submit to a court, papers such as utility bills and other notarised documents that show that they have lived for lengthy periods in a particular property of a relative and under the squatter law had right to ownership of the property. If the court grants them that right, it is legal and above board.

While this should not have any impact on the new foreign owner, there is always the nagging question: what if the absentee family member comes back and is surprised to find out what has happened and goes to court to undo a Squatters Law judgment? Could a court subsequently overturn the earlier ruling handed down in favour of the "live - in" relatives?

The chances are not, but considering the value of real estate in Greece these days, you never know.

How to Check the Squatter's Law?

It is just a case of asking your own appointed Greek lawyer if the owner of the property you plan to purchase gained the deeds under the Squatters Rights law? The lawyer should be able to clear up the matter in their land title searches. The point is, while it is an 'obvious' fact to check out, it is better to remind your lawyer. It could be a costly oversight if it had been accidentally overlooked in the purchasing process and the problem surfaces later.

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