Is your house in Crete legal?
West Crete Journal, February 2007
We have long been concerned about the abuse of planning laws by some large developers in Crete, who buy a plot of inexpensive land outside village limits and then build detached houses to sell to innocent foreigners.
Greek planning law since 1971, clearly states that it is illegal to build dwellings separated vertically (e.g. detached houses on the same plot), anywhere outside the town/village plan. Only dwellings separated horizontally (e.g. apartments above one another), are allowed outside the town/village plan. In order to be legal, they must be one building: physically and structurally connected.
Furthermore, the developers often build more square metres than is allowed for a given plot, which is also illegal and can cause problems for anyone wanting to extend their house later.
Some large developers and their associated lawyers, have abused this law by "connecting" detached dwellings with low walls, pergolas and the like. This abuse is particularly prevalent in foreign influx areas, such as Apokoronas in the Chania perfecture.
Following a recent Chania court case over a boundary dispute - where the judge set aside the purchase contracts because they were illegal due to such abuses - the president of the Chania Law Society sent a fax in May 2006 (translation here) to all Chania lawyers, architects and engineers.
He spelt out in no uncertain terms that this abuse must stop, that tricks such as connecting detached dwellings with walls or pergolas from 5 to 40 metres long are illegal, and pointed out that the penalties for such abuse are loss of licence and imprisonment.
However, we know of several instances since the issue of that fax, where developers and lawyers have continued to abuse the planning system and buyers alike. We therefore advise buyers to be very careful when buying a property in an "out of town/village" location.
The problem does not occur when an innocent buyer purchases such a property: the developer will always find a lawyer to say that it's legal, and thus reassure the buyer.
The problem occurs when the original buyer - perhaps after 5 or 10 years - wants to sell.
A prospective purchaser will of course then hire an independent lawyer to check the legality of the building, and that's when the original buyer could discover that his house is illegal and unsaleable - and perhaps those of his neighbours.
The solution is simple: when thinking of buying a house on a development with two or more detached houses, insist on a written statement (stamped and signed) from the seller's lawyer, that the house is 'έντος οικοισμός' (within the town or village limits), and that it complies with all planning laws. Get it translated into your own language, so that you can check the content.
If the seller's lawyer makes excuses or refuses, walk away and look for another house. If they provide such a written statement and you later discover your house is in fact illegal, you can then sue the developer and lawyer.
NOTE: Since we first published this article in February 2007, we have had many emails from foreign buyers on this subject - both those who have already bought such properties, and those who were about to. Despite the court ruling, it is clear that some developers and their lawyers continue to break the law at the expense of innocent buyers. A further effect has also surfaced: some buyers who bought a legal property now face the prospect of their views being blocked by illegal developments of this sort in front of them ... BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!