Elisa Mari, Pitt Law '10, files from Athens:
Lately it has been more of a hassle and more crowded than usual at the Land Registry Office (Ypothikofilakeio). A title search in Greece consists of going through the old hand written volumes of the registries to check for title, mortgages, liens, etc. all listed under the owner's last name. All that is going to change though, as a whole new land registry system (Ktimatologeio) is being implemented. The property will now be registered under lot number and address, rather than by the owner's name. Everyone who owns property must register it under the new system. That is why the Land Registry Office has suddenly become packed daily with lines out the door.
Property owners have until September 30th to declare their property to the Ktimatologeio, while Greeks living abroad or foreign residents who own property in Greece have until December 30th to register their property. It is calculated that 3.1 million stremma (one stremma is 1,000 square meters) will be recorded and this will include the property of 2/3 of the population.
While a land registry system where the information is organized under lot number and address rather than owner's name is beneficial everywhere, it is especially crucial in Greece. Much of the property here is jointly owned by multiple family members. In fact when it comes to inheritance rights and the division of property, the Greek Civil Code stipulates that all children (with only some extreme exceptions) have a forced share of an estate. Therefore, regardless of what a parent decides in his/her will, a child cannot be disinherited and a portion of the property or money is theirs by law.
Even if it were not the law, the Greek mentality is to keep everything in the family and have everyone own everything together. It is not uncommon therefore to find a small house in a village or a plot of land that is owned by five siblings, some of whom might not even live in Greece anymore. It rarely seems to cross anyone's mind that this is a recipe for disaster. Houses are left abandoned and fall into disrepair because none of the siblings can agree with the others on how to manage the property, and the loving family that wanted to own everything together ends up in bitter feuds over property ownership. In fact, the majority of the property cases that the office I'm working at deals with concern cleaning up title between relatives who each claim a percentage of the total ownership of a property. It is a refreshing, but rare, occurrence when one of our clients actually has full title in fee simple absolute. In addition, ownership by adverse possession is common. The typical case arises when the actual title holder is living abroad and has left the property in the hands of relatives who assure him that they are "taking care" of the property until the owner's return.
While the new land registry system won't solve these problems, it will certainly make tracking down title easier and clarify who owns what. As for the rest, that's a social issue and from the way it seems it is not likely to change anytime soon.
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