If you are a foreign investor and have bought real estate in Bulgaria, then there are several important things you should know. These apply to most types of properties so if you follow the steps listed below, you will ensure safe ownership and easy management of prospective Title transfer ahead in the future if you decide to do so.
1) You have to declare the Bulgarian property at the local Tax Authority: Once you have bought Bulgarian real estate, you need to know that you should register it in your name at the local Tax Office not later than two months after the date of the purchase. I.e. a local tax batch on your name must be created, where the annual council property taxes should be calculated. Declaring your property happens with a declaration in the Bulgarian language with few documents to be attached to it, so it is advisable to get a lawyer to do it for you.
The alternative situation is when you have bought an off-plan property (an apartment, for example) before act 16 (permission for usage). Then you need to register it at the local Municipality not later than 2 months after Act 16 has been issued to you. You can’t escape from this obligation, because since you are the owner of the apartment, they will automatically detail you in the issued later Act 16 as well, as “assignor” of this document.
* Note that for late or non-declaring of your property, you will be subject to a fine according to the Act for local Taxes and Charges. The fine is a serious amount for local companies who have bought real estate.
2) You have to register yourself as the new owner of this property at the local Cadastre: In most big cities in Bulgaria, as well as in most holiday resorts the Cadastral Map has entered into force in the last couple of years. It is possible if you have bought your property in Sunny Beach before 2009 or in Bansko before 2010, that you or your property (not rare cases) has not been registered with the Cadastral Map. So it is advisable to register yourself as the new actual owner of the Bulgarian real estate which you have recently bought. This legal activity serves two goals:
– It will not only delete the name of the vendor (previous owner) so to avoid any illegal actions by third parties with this property but also
– This will help you to find out and repair any technical mistakes that may have occurred with making a map of this property if it has been bought before entering the Cadastral Map in this region. For example, such mistakes are non-detailing of your apartment on the Cadastral Map or wrong/not enough details listed for it. Such mistakes make eventual sales at a later stage impossible until cleared; and as with most things in Bulgaria, removing such mistakes takes time.
This is why it is advisable to register your property in the local Cadastral Map, especially if you have bought it with a Title Deed where there is no identification number of the property, listed in it (i.e. before entering the Cadastral Map in this area). You can always ask for guidance on this matter.
3) Then you have to deal regularly and on time with the annual council taxes due for your Bulgarian property: Remember that if you own an apartment in Bulgaria or a house/villa with Act 16 (permission for usage) or a regulated plot of land, these are subject to annual council property taxes. Our legal experience shows, that many overseas investors do not know that they should pay annual property taxes for the apartments they have bought in Bulgaria. Or believe that this is the annual maintenance fee they are paying to the developer or a local company, dealing with the common shares of the building. But such private fees, related to the common shares of the building, have nothing to do with the annual real estate taxes due to the local Municipality. Once the property has been bought and registered in your name, these should be paid regularly (i.e. annually) otherwise penalty for the delay is charged on these. I have had cases in my practice where the local Municipalities initiate execution cases with the bailiff against the properties for collection of the tax debt.
And please remember that the local Municipality and the Government are always privileged creditors for the taxes they have to collect from private individuals. This means that you should inform yourself and organize regular annual payments of the council real estate taxes for your property. You can always ask us for guidance on this matter.
* Note that non-payment of the annual property taxes for Bulgarian property leads to penalties for delay and fines. Note that fines are in serious amounts for local companies who own real estate but do not pay the annual taxes. You can always ask for legal advice and guidance on this matter.
** Annual council property taxes are much lower for owners-physical individuals, than these for owners-local companies. If you are an EU resident and you own a local Bulgarian corporate body that holds Title to your property, it is advisable to get it liquidated and transfer the Title directly to you. It is useless to pay higher annual property taxes and fees for an annual zero-tax return, where you can close the company and own the property as a physical individual. You can always ask for legal advice and guidance on this matter.
4) Electricity and water batches: Bear that in Bulgaria they do not automatically change batches in your name, once you buy an apartment or a house after Act 16 is issued. The local suppliers of water and electricity require that you have to apply with a particular application in their offices to get a new batch or to get the old batch changed in your name. Note that vendors/sellers stop dealing with the opened batches in their name once they sell the property to you, so it is quite possible to face a situation with cut electricity or stopped water just because you have not paid attention to organizing change of batches in your name.
5) To insure your property against the main risks – thievery, flood, arson/fire, and earthquakes. This applies especially to owners of houses or villas situated in small villages in the countryside. My practice shows that sometimes these non-occupied old rural houses are subject to thievery by locals. On the other hand, the basic insurance fee for annual insurance of a house or apartment in Bulgaria is not much – so you can get easily your property insured even from abroad, via a legal representative to sign the insurance policy on your behalf. You can always ask for guidance on this matter.
6) Those, who have bought holiday apartments, should explore the situation with the Condominium Law applicable in their complex. Respectively to establish the maintenance type of the common parts of the building. Somewhere hidden from the buyer, somewhere not – but there is a huge number of holiday complexes in Bulgaria, where the maintenance fees, usually charged by the developer, are serious sums. And unfortunately, the local Condominium Law gives a lot of preference towards the maintenance company and not to the single apartment owner, which explains chasing people for debts related to maintenance. So the sooner you set up the most convenient type of maintenance for the complex where your apartment is situated, the better.
7) In addition, it is advisable to change the locks of the front door of your apartment or house, if you haven’t got a rental/management contract and receiving rental income. Unfortunately, our experience shows that trustful foreign investors use to authorize various parties or intermediaries to sign Title Deeds on their behalf without accepting keys from the developer/seller. In other particular cases, the foreign apartment owners never visit their Bulgarian property which is used by management/rental companies or developers to rent their apartment out without permission. There should be an explanation why there are millions of tourists in the Bulgarian holiday resorts and everybody stating the vacation complexes are fully occupied in the seasons, and on the other hand, not so many foreign apartment owners hold rental contracts and receive a rental income. This is why it is advisable to organize a change of the locks of the front door of your Bulgarian property, to avoid unauthorized usage and making of profit on your back.
8) For these couples who have bought real estate in Bulgaria during their marriage, but later split and get divorced, it is advisable to manage and settle their co-owner legal relations about the Bulgarian property. This will enable quick, low-cost, and satisfactory transfer among themselves according to the consent order or decree absolute, or just to enable re-sale of it at a later stage.
9) These owners who are interested to set their inheritance intentions, should be informed that they are entitled to leave a Bulgarian will, which to manage the Title transfer of their Bulgarian property after death. So you can get a legal advice about that too.
10) If you have bought real estate in Bulgaria with the intention to re-sale later, then you should know that you are obliged to collect a set of documents from the local Authorities (these documents required by the seller, i.e. yourself) and sign personally or via authorized legal representative the new Title Deed for the property transfer towards your buyer. If you use a real estate agency to advertise your property and find a buyer, note that local commission fees are at the usual rate of 2-3%.