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Cyprus Legal Information

Cyprus legal system is based on the British system. Cyprus used to be a British colony, so most of the goverment procedures were based on the British legal system. The legal system regarding sale of properties protects the purchaser’s rights in many ways. The Cyprus land registry provides a simple and effective legal procedure for protecting the buyer. Once the buyer signs the contract of sale is signed and the deposit has been paid, the contract is registered at the land registry. This contract protects the buyer and protects the ownership rights until the title deeds are issued and transferred to the buyer’s name. Once the contract is lodged with the land registry it cannot be withdrawn by anyone. The property cannot be leased, sold, transferred or mortgaged by anyone except the buyer.

Overview of the Cyprus Legal System

The Cyprus legal system is based on the same principles as those applicable in the United Kingdom and all statutes regulating business matters and procedures are based essentially on British law. The fact that Cyprus follows the British law makes property purchase and other legal transactions understandable to most expatriates.  The Continental system of administrative law, according to which the legality of administrative decisions can be judicially controlled, has been introduced and applied by virtue of the constitution.

Cyprus Amenment to Legislation 

Cyprus became a full member of the EU on 1st May 2004. Cyprus entrance to the European Union resulted in many changes for EU Nationals planning to purchase property in Cyprus.

The major changes in purchasing cyprus property after 1st May 2004:

1. An EU National resident in Cyprus is allowed to buy as much property in Cyprus without restriction and does not need to obtain approval from any authority. 

2. EU Nationals who are not resident in Cyprus are permitted to buy as much land as they wish, but are restricted to purchase one house or one apartment for which approval from the Council of Ministers is required.

3. In order to comply with the idea of free movements of people and goods, certain restrictions have been lifted.  Citizens of the EU may enter Cyprus without restriction even with only their National identity card, provided there is a photograph.

4. Exchange control restrictions are no longer in force and it is no longer necessary to prove that property was purchased from external funds.

5. Cyprus Investment Policy is liberal and allows 100% foreign participation in all sectors of the economy, not only for EU Nationals, but also for investors from third countries, unless otherwise stated in the legislation; e.g. The acquisition and development of land.

 

 

 

Cyprus Property Ownership

Purchasing property in Cyprus by foreigners is very simple:

- Non Europeans are entitled to a freehold ownership of a villa, an apartment or a piece of land. The area of land of the property must not exceed 4014 sq. meters (four thousand and fourteen square meters).

- Europeans are entitled to a freehold ownership of a Cyprus villa or an apartment. These restrictions should soon be abolished because of Cyprus’ entrance to the EU. It is likely that a change like this in the legal system will increase demand of real estate resulting in an increase in property prices. Europeans can purchase land in Cyprus in any size or quantity that they wish. This was one of the changes which took place when Cyprus entered the EU.

- Foreign companies can purchase offices for their business and holiday homes for their directors.

- Europeans who have a permanent or temporary permit can register as many properties as they want provided that they sign a confirmation to the government that they will stay for the following five years in Cyprus. 
 
Title Deeds and the Cyprus Land Registry Office

It’s a simple procedure to transfer the ownership from Vendor to Purchaser and is done at the Cyprus Land Registry Office, either by the buyer in person or by appointing a third party with a Power of Attorney.

You are required to provide a permit from the Council of Ministers in order to transfer ownership.

Below is a very brief overview of the law relating to property and who can purchase property in Cyprus, Greece and Bulgaria.  We are able to help with legal advice and will help you contact a solicitor who will tailor their advice and services to your specific needs.  Please contact us for any additional information you need.

Legal Information regarding the purchasing procedure of property is described below in three main sections:                                                

1. Purchasing Property in Cyprus
2. Purchasing Property in Greece
3. Purchasing Property in Bulgaria
 
1. Purchasing Property in Cyprus

Introduction:

The favourable location of Cyprus at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa together with the fact that Cyprus was a full member of the E.U. as from May 1st , 2004, its safe and protective legal system, the excellent infrastructure the high standard of legal, banking and accounting services provided, the continuing development of the island, the extensive use of English language, the excellent climate and the hospitality and friendliness of the locals, are some of the reasons that established Cyprus as an ideal centre for both business and pleasure and thus attracted to the island a considerable number of individuals and foreign investors interested in immovable cyprus property.

Legal System:

The legal system in Cyprus is generally based on common law and our legislation is, to a large extent is modelled on the English legislation. However, in the field of Immovable Property Cyprus legislation and the legal system is generally different than the one applied in the U.K.

First of all, the protection of ownership is safeguarded by the provisions of the Constitution, the ultimate Law of Cyprus, which establishes the equality of all persons and the respect for human rights, including the right to ownership, without discriminations.

According to Cyprus Law, Cypriots, as well as foreigners can enjoy all rights relating to ownership of their property without any interference either from the State or individuals.

Acquisition of Immovable Property:

- Cypriots & E.U. citizens living in Cyprus:

Under Cyprus Law, Cypriots or persons of Cypriot origin as well as E.U. citizens who have their permanent residence in Cyprus are allowed to acquire any property without any restrictions.

The residential status is ascertained by the District Offices and is obtained when a person resides in Cyprus for a total period of 185 days per year or more.

- Foreigners & other E. U. citizens:

Foreigners and E.U. citizens who are not permanent residents of Cyprus, wishing to purchase immovable property in Cyprus are obliged to adhere to special formalities and are restricted by certain regulations.

Firstly a restriction as to the type and size of the property is applied and they are given permission to buy only one apartment or one house or a building plot or land, which in the case of E.U. citizens can be unlimited and in the case of all other foreigners up to 4,014 square metres (the equivalent of three donums).

In the cases of persons who are living or working in Cyprus for a long period of time a permit to buy a second house may be granted.

After the permission has been obtained and the property registered in the name of the purchaser, there are no other restrictions for the foreigner who is the owner of immovable property in Cyprus and he or she may sell or dispose of the property as they wish. The foreigner owner of immovable property can sell it and buy another, as any bona fide repeat purchaser will be granted a subsequent permit.

Furthermore the legal heir/s of the said owner is not required to obtain a permit from the Council of Ministers in order to transfer the property on to their name.

The restriction applied for E.U. citizens not residing in Cyprus will seize after May 2009 and all citizens of the E.U. will be treated equally with Cypriot citizens regardless of their residential status.

- Approval by the Council of Ministers:

According to Cyprus Law, foreigners must obtain the permission of the Council of Ministers prior to the acquisition of real estate property. Recently these powers have been assigned to the Pertinent Authorities of every district, in order for the procedure to become speedier.

A foreigner – the law uses the term ‘alien’ – is any person who is not a citizen of the Republic, including an alien controlled company. The term does not include foreigners of Cypriot origin, or the non Cypriot spouses of citizens of the republic.

- Acquisition of real estate property includes:

Transfer of title deed.

Long lease for periods of more than 33 years.

The acquisition of shares in a company that owns immovable property, if such an acquisition results in the company becoming controlled by foreigners.

The establishment of a trust or any type of set-up, which is connected with the ownership of real estate, for the benefit of a foreigner, including tax benefits.

Although the proceedings for the obtaining of the permission might need a considerable amount of time to be fulfilled, purchasers are entitled to occupy their properties until then.

Also, any contract for the purchase or lease of property is valid even if the Pertinent Authority rejects the foreigner's request for permit. As such, when purchasing a property, it is advisable for the relevant contract to include provisions for such an event so as to secure a refund of any money paid or any other remedy.

The application to the Pertinent Authority requires information about the personal details and financial standing of the applicant and particulars of the property and its present owner. Also it must be accompanied by a number of legal documents.

As general rule permission is granted to bona fide applicants provided they have:

No criminal record in their country or in Cyprus.

The financial means to support themselves in Cyprus. (An income of €20,503 (CY£12.000) per annum between the couple is considered satisfactory).

As of 1st May 2004 citizens of the EU residing in Cyprus or Cyprus based companies, controlled by citizens of a Member State are not considered to be foreigners. As for citizens of the EU not residing in Cyprus, there is a transitional period until May 2009, after which they will be treated equally with Cypriot citizens regardless of their residential status.

Specific Performance:

One can wonder about the safeguards of a transaction between a seller and a purchaser, especially when the purchaser is not allowed to transfer the acquired property onto his/her

name, sometimes for a long period of time after payment of the consideration, as in the case of a foreigner purchaser waiting for several formalities to be completed.

According to the provisions of Specific Performance Law, the purchaser of immovable property may secure the transfer of the acquired property onto his/her name by deposing a duly signed and stamped copy of the contract at the Land Registry within two (2) months from the signing of the contract.

By deposing the contract to the Land Registry, the purchaser prevents the owner from transferring the property elsewhere or charging it for as long as the contract is valid and legally effective. Note that no burdens, charges or encumbrances can affect the right of specific performance after the contract has been deposited with the Land Registry.

Depositing a copy of the contract to the land Registry gives the purchaser the right to seek “specific performance” of the terms and conditions of the contract and thus to register the property onto his/her name, even though the owner may not be willing to accommodate such procedures.

Fees and Charges:

Usually the relative fees and charges for the acquisition of Immovable Property in Cyprus are paid by the Purchaser. These include legal fees as well as transfer fees, stamps and other fees imposed by the Cypriot authorities.

Transfer Fees:

When registering the property under his / her name, the purchaser will be liable to pay the following transfer fees, calculated according to the property's market value:

Market Value  €/CY£                                                     Fees Rate

Up to €85,430 (CY£50,000)                                                 3 %

From €85,430 (CY£50,000)  –  €170,860 (CY£100,000)             5 %

Over €170,860 (CY£100,000)                                               8 %

Stamp Duty:

The purchaser is also liable for the payment of stamp duty at the rate of 0.15 % of the market value of the property up to

€170,860 (CY£100,000) and 0.20 % for over €170,860 (CY£100,000).

The contract should be stamped within a period of thirty (30) days from signing.

Although the absence of the revenue stamp on a contract does not render it void, the stamp must be paid before depositing the contract to the Land Registry for specific Performance purposes (see SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE above).

The stamp duty plus a fine will be payable when the contract is produced to the Land Registry for the transfer of ownership or to any Government department and the court.

Capital Gains Tax:

Capital gains tax is levied at the rate of 20% on gains realised from the disposal of immovable property or the disposal of shares of companies the assets of which consist mainly on immovable property.

The gain is calculated as the difference between the sales proceeds and the original cost of the property. Interest on payments paid for the acquisition, additions to the property and inflation rate, as published yearly by the Government, are deducted from gains.

Individuals are entitled to the following lifetime allowances on Capital Gains Tax:

The first €17,086 (CY£10,000) of gains arising from the disposal of any property are exempted.

The first €25,629 (CY£15,000) of gains arising from the disposal of agricultural land by farmers are exempted (subject to conditions).

The first €85,430 (CY£50,000) of gains arising from the disposal of a house used by the owner for his / her own habitation are exempted (subject to conditions).

The following allowances are not available separately and every individual is only allowed a maximum lifetime allowance of €85,430 (CY£50,000).

Non – residents are only charged when selling property in Cyprus but they can be totally exempt from Capital Gains Tax if they can prove that the purchase consideration was paid with

foreign funds imported between August 1st 1980 and July 13th 1990.

The following categories of immovable property disposals are exempted from the Capital Gains Tax:

- Transfers by reason of death

Gifts between relatives up to third level of relationship.
Gifts to limited liability companies when, at the time of transfer and for a period of five years following the transfer, all the shareholders of the company are members of the family of the donor.
Gifts by family companies to their members, but only in cases where the property transferred, was obtained by the company as a gift.

Exchanges of immovable properties.

Compulsory acquisitions.

Gifts to charitable institutions or the Republic of Cyprus.

Other Taxes
 
VAT As of May 1st 2004, the supply of immovable property is subject to VAT (Value Added Tax), which is calculated at a rate of 15 % of the value of the property.

However, VAT is only levied on property before its first use, as well as on the land on which such property is built. Also for buyers of a first residence the VAT is levied at a rate of 5 %.

Transitional provisions provide the exemption of buildings for which a valid application for planning permission was submitted before May 1st 2004.

For more information visit the official website of the Ministry of Finance of Cyprus at : www.mof.gov.cy.

Immovable Property (Towns) Tax:

The registered owner of immovable property is also subject to minor taxation under other laws, imposed by municipal or other authorities. These taxes are levied according to the area and the size of the property and cover sewerage, refuse collection, street lights and other similar expenses. The charges range in total from approximately €85.00 (CY£50.00) to €170.00 (CY£100.00) per annum.

Double Taxation Treaties:

Cyprus has signed double taxation treaties with a considerably large number of countries and more are under negotiation.

These treaties may affect favourably the ownership of immovable property in Cyprus and also groups of people who decide to relocate to Cyprus, such as retired residents, employees and business investors.

Some of the countries with which Cyprus has entered into double taxation treaties are: U.K., Ireland, Greece, U.S.A., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Belarus, Romania, China, Austria, Belgium, South Africa, Yugoslavia and many others.

2. Purchasing Property in Greece

(a) Can foreigners (non Greek Citizens) buy property in Greece?

Yes.  Greece has been a state in the European Union officially since 1983.  For security purposes, all restrictions imposed on foreigners owning property were lifted in 1992 (except land in close proximity to military bases).
 
(b) Is the purchase of property difficult in Greece?

No.  In summary having selected your property, you appoint your English speaking Greek lawyer to act on your behalf by giving him/her Power of Attorney (this is arranged through a Public

Notary for a fee of approximately €60).  You will then pay a 10% deposit (which is non-refundable should you withdraw) to secure your property purchase and set the price with the vendor.  Your lawyer will obtain your local tax ID number on your behalf, which is required by law in Greece to be able to purchase property.  Completion normally takes approximately 3 - 4 weeks dependent on the readiness of the property sale documentation.  If you prefer, you can instruct your lawyer to sign the final contract on your behalf in front of the Public Notary (Government appointed lawyer) who approves and records the transaction.  Alternatively, you may wish to sign the contract yourself.  In this case, the contract is translated word by word for you (in accordance with the Greek law).
 
(c) Is there Land Registry?

Yes.  In addition to a very precise set of deeds, which establishes your ownership of the land and hence by Greek law any property built on it thereafter, there is now Land Registry in most areas in Greece.

(d) What are the taxes/expenses involved in property purchase?

The total expenses are forecast at approximately 15%, the variation being dependent on the Tax Office assessment of the property for purchase tax purposes (normally substantially less than the actual purchase price).  The 15% forecast includes your lawyer's fees, property Land Registry Recording fees, vendor's/estate agent's fees and property taxes - which in Greece are a one-off payment at the time of the land's/property's purchase transaction.

(e) What other taxes/expenses apply if I live in Greece?

If you are not working, or do not have any income in Greece, then your only costs will be your utilities i.e.  electricity and water usage bills (including public sewage, if you have it).  There is no Council Tax and no Capital Gains Tax in Greece.

(f) What quarantees exist on new build houses?

The architect and the builder are fully responsible in the Greek law for the structure in perpetuity and for complying with all the building rules and regulations imposed and ordered by the

Greek Building Department in which they have an obligation to report to as well.

(g) If I decide to buy a property, what are the payment stages?

   (i)   10% deposit - fixing price and holding the property.

   (ii)   60% to go on and prepare all property documentation needed for the lawyer to draw up the final purchase contract, pay

        all fees & taxes required and secure the transaction.

   (iii)   30% to complete, sign and record the property's purchase contract by the Lawyer.

3. Purchasing Property in Bulgaria
 
Buying property in Bulgaria is a sound investment but the need for good legal advice is as necessary as it is in any other country.  It is essential that you enlist the help of a good lawyer

to carry out detailed searches on land and perform thorough investigations on title ownership.  Buying property in Bulgaria currently offers excellent value for money.

Present and Future Legalities of Buying Property in Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, the law prohibits foreigners from owing land, a prohibition that is largely academic because those who want to own land simply set up a company that is permitted to make such purchases.  A change to this restriction on land ownership has been approved in principle by the Bulgarian state as part of the precondition of EU accession, but will not come into force until 2014.  Every European citizen will be able to buy property in Bulgaria without any restrictions or limitations, thus making buying property in Bulgaria more attractive, less speculative and, ultimately, more profitable.

The Steps to Buying Property in Bulgaria

(a) Set up a limited company

Currently there are restrictions on foreigners buying land in Bulgaria.  According to the Bulgarian Act on Foreign Investment, foreigners may buy properties but not land in Bulgaria. 

Therefore, the most common method that foreigners use when buying property in Bulgaria is to register a limited company that then owns the land and the property.

If you’re buying an apartment in Bulgaria, you don’t normally need to set up a limited company as the land is shared between the owners.  This is already written into the contract. 

However if the sale includes land (as a house would), then a company needs to be incorporated to hold the land.  Setting up a company for the purpose of buying property in Bulgaria is a relatively easy process.

First of all set up a company bank account. You will need to deposit a minimum of 5,000 Leva (approximately €2,556 (CY£1,495), the minimum capital required in Bulgarian law to establish a limited company.  This can be withdrawn once the company is formally registered.  Remember that this is not the cost of setting up the company, but one of the conditions necessary to set up the company. The courts will not issue the company registration numbers unless you can prove that you have at least this amount in your account.

As soon as the courts have issued the registration numbers, you can withdraw the full amount or keep the account open for future transfers, the choice is yours.  In addition to a company bank account it is advisable to set up a personal bank account for future payments of utility bills and tax payments. 

Once the company is formed, details of the company will need to be registered with the Bulgarian National Tax Register Authority, National Companies Register and the National Social Security Institute.

All foreign buyers purchasing property in Bulgaria must be aware that sellers insist on declaring a lower price in the title deeds to avoid paying tax. Be careful here as most sellers prefer to state the "tax estimation" price rather then the "selling price” as this will reduce their tax liability. Do not participate in this type of tax evasion as penalties are severe.  It is therefore essential that you insist that the selling price be stated on the deeds when buying property in Bulgaria, because if you state the tax estimation price and then decide to sell the property, you will be faced with a hefty capital gains tax liability.  Hopefully, it shouldn’t come to this as the purchaser will usually agree to insert the selling price instead of the tax estimation price.

(b) Make a deposit

Once you have decided on a property and agreed on the price, the initial deposit should be placed with your Bulgarian lawyer to secure the property. The lawyer will then draw up a preliminary contract setting out all the agreed terms and stating the deposit paid.  It’s at this stage that the property is then taken off the market.

(c) Perform legal checks

The lawyer then carries out the necessary checks on the title and investigates if there are any outstanding loans secured on the property.  You have a thirty-day time limit to complete the transaction.  If the seller withdraws from the sale within this period, you will be entitled to damages to the amount of twice your initial deposit paid.  However, if you decide to withdraw from the transaction, the lawyer must forfeit your deposit.

Once the lawyer is satisfied that all is in order, the balance of the purchase price is paid plus agency fees and a land tax/notary fee.  The whole conveyance process of buying property in

Bulgaria takes about 3 weeks, but by giving Power of Attorney to your lawyer you don’t need to return to Bulgaria to complete the transaction.
 
So what documents do I need to take with me and how much money do I require when buying property in Bulgaria for the first time?

Cash or travellers cheques (or Bulgarian Lev) to the value of 10% of each property price, plus around €500 - €900 (CY£292 – CY£526) to cover the company set-up charge.

Your passport for proof of identity.

You will also need to bring 5,000 Levs (approximately €2,556 (CY£1,495)) to open your company bank account. But don’t forget that this money is only to show the courts that you have the minimum funds required to create a limited company.

Add around €200 (CY£117) to cover small charges for opening your company bank account, preliminary contract fee, and document translation costs if required.

And, of course, don't forget to bring some money to cover your living and travel costs during your visit.
Here’s a summary of the property buying procedure and the main points you need to be aware of when buying property in Bulgaria:

· Make an offer (re-sale property).  Once an offer is made and a deposit paid to your lawyer (usually10% of the agreed price), the property is then taken off the market.

· Open a company bank account to deposit the 5,000 Levs (approximately €2,556 (CY£1,495)) to show that you have the funds required to set up a company in Bulgaria.

· Set up a Bulgarian registered company for buying property in Bulgaria.  (The cost is around €900 (CY£526).

· Open a personal bank account for future payments of tax and utility bills.

· Enlist the help of a Bulgarian lawyer to perform searches to the Land Registry - once all documents have been checked and approved, a completion date will be agreed upon.

· Completion shall be effected upon transfer of funds and signing of the Notary Act, which is the transfer of Title   Deeds.

· Legal fees & costs on purchase price totals around 5% -  This includes:

  - Solicitors fees usually 1%

  - Notary expenses are approximately 2%

  - Notary fees varies, but usually are less then 0.5-0.8%

  - Stamp duty of 2%

  - Land registration tax of 0.1%

· Time scale for the entire process is around 30/40 days.