From: Carloalberto Rossi
Property “Vetting” or the Next Land Grab?

A few days ago, Director General of the Agency for Legalization, Urbanization, and Integration of Informal Zones and Buildings (ALUIZNI) Artan Lame, confirmed that “the government during these days […] will be conducting an audit of all abusive construction permits along the coastline, in order to relieve the latter of its real estate cramp. Around 30 thousand plots along the coastline will undergo this process.”

According to Lame, the government intends to nationalize all coastal real estate that has been acquired illegally and use it to compensate former owners or develop tourism.

Speaking for the government, Lame stated that “we warn Albanian citizens […] to be cautious when purchasing property in coastal areas of suspicious origin or at a suspiciously advantageous price. Before a purchase, make sure to inquire at the municipality about whether or not any plans of development exist for the area in question.”

For 25 years, the issue of real estate and property rights in Albania has remained unresolved. From the beginning, the misapplication of law no. 7501 and all the following interventions, be they through lawmaking or court decisions, as well as the execution of these laws in reappropriation committees, have created a muddy situation, that today seems unresolvable.

Obviously, everyone wishes to give this problem an appropriate solution. However, up until now – after 25 years of falsified documentation, “fixed” trials, contradictory legislation, and good-faith investment in the land – every proposal seems destined to beget even more problems and injustices.

Now, the government hopes to solve this major problem by “vetting” property papers, which will certainly be very convenient for lawyers, topographers, judges, falsifiers, intermediaries, and, most importantly, their pockets. Also convenient is that this vetting comes precisely when another vetting has halted the function of the justice system in the country.

Furthermore, appeals will undermine the normal execution of the vetting process. There will be no fairness in cases where the property has been resold more than once, or where constructions have been made on the property.

This topic is not new. In fact, one of the few clear and consistent points of the 1994 Civil Code dictates that, when a third party buys the property in good faith, “the court may decide that anything that this party has given be turned back to this party and where the return of the same thing is not possible, they must pay its value to the party.”

This is a difficult principle to execute accurately (what constitutes evidence of good faith?), yet it is included in nearly all legislation around the world, since one of the primary purposes of a civil code is guaranteeing the smooth progression of economic development, even in the long term.

In Albania, this concept doesn’t seem to find much traction and the continuous revision of property rights has hampered new investments in tourism and real estate. This is further demonstrated by Lame’s statement that intends to suspend many operations, until the process of vetting is concluded.

The recent explosion of private–public partnerships in the real estate and tourism sectors thus emerges as a high social risk. An operation like the one Lame speaks of can only be interpreted as a mass expropriation intended to redistribute the property to other private actors under the guise of PPPs.

This would be a grave attack against the notion of the free market and private property. It will only attract a handful of brave local or regional investors and repel foreign ones, moving Albania further and further away from the standards of a country one can safely invest in.