Buying a property in Bulgaria

Buyer, beware!

Защитената местност Камчийски пясъци край Шкорпиловци беше нарочно закрита, а горите й - заменени, ... 
© Zlatni Pyassatci Nature Park Directorate
Kamchiiski Pyasytsi used to be a protected area before developers asked the court to withdraw its status. Construction works may begin soon
© Zlatni Pyassatci Nature Park Directorate
How to buy a property in Bulgaria and not destroy the country's nature
Buying a property in Bulgaria is seen by some as a wonderful opportunity to invest little and get profits quickly. Lower prices of land and the opportunity of higher prices with the EU accession have lured many to buy inexpensive property and either sell it or rent it later.

However, real estate companies do not always offer enough information about the status of the land. So, buyers, beware! Very often real estate property is offered either in a national protected area or in a Natura 2000 site.

This holds risks:
- for your investment, because there was already a case of stopped construction in a nature park and
- for the future of Bulgarian and European nature heritage.

Nature in Bulgaria

Compared to the relatively small size of the country, Bulgaria is among the first places in Europe in terms of diversity of life and landscapes. The three climatic zones, the diversity of relief, and the vicinity to the Black Sea coast determine the variety of geographic and life forms. The number of birds for example which can be seen in Bulgaria is only second to Spain.

Today more and more of the relatively preserved nature is under threat by over-development. Protected areas are the traditional form of saving the invaluable natural resources, which are also the most vulnerable.

The regime in national protected Areas and Natura 2000 sites

There are six categories with varying regimes of protected areas in Bulgaria designated according to the national legislation, - from strict protection (Nature Reserves, Managed Reserves and National Parks) to regimes which do not forbid economic activities but depend on the individual designation orders (Nature Parks, Natural Monuments and Protected Landscapes).

Natura 2000 sites have a more flexible regime with no bans on economic activities, but with the aim of preserving the habitat or species for which the sites are designated. The regime for each site is set out in its designation order. The Ministry of Environment and Waters will set these regimes by the end of 2007 earliest. In general, one should not expect a 10-storey hotel to be allowed to be built in the middle of the habitat of a rare species.

Construction in protected areas can stop your investment

In early 2006 a construction of a holiday village started within Strandzha Nature Park. The construction started without Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA or, in Bulgarian, OVOS), without agreement with the park administration, in violation of various construction and water management provisions.

The Bulgarian minister of environment and waters issued a halt on the construction in February 2006 due to lack of EIA. Instead of taking actions and organizing an OVOS, the developer decided to sue the Ministry while continuing with the construction.

The court case went through the two instances of the Supreme Administrative Court and finally the higher instance decided in November 2006 that the construction should stop.

Now the future of the investment of 67 foreigners from Britain, Ireland, Belgium and India is unclear.

Advice to individual buyers

Always check whether the proposed property is within a protected area or a Natura 2000 site. Ask your solicitor to find out with the Ministry of the Environment and Water and its regional structures – the Regional Inspectorates on the Environment and Waters (RIOSV in Bulgarian). Their contacts are published on the web site of the Ministry of the Environment and Waters.

If in doubt, get in contact with a nature conservation NGO. The organizations which took part in the establishment of the Natura 2000 network in Bulgaria are Green Balkans, BALKANI Wildlife Society, WWF in Bulgaria, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife Bulgaria).

Maps are also available, though currently in Bulgarian only.

Overdevelopment is already a fact

It is always important to check the surroundings of a real estate offered. Once a cozy little town at the foot of magnificent Pirin National Park, Bansko, for example, has changed beyond recognition. It is a new resort with huge amounts of new hotels, roaring trucks, insufficient infrastructure and huge pressure over the water resources.

The resort develops due to the compromise which the Bulgarian authorities made over the construction of a ski zone within the national park. The construction of ski facilities breaks not only the laws of people but the laws of nature.

Check the consequences in the report of Save Pirin coalition of Bulgarian nature conservation organizations.

Despite the fact that Bansko does not lie within the territory of the national park, its overdevelopment adds to the destruction already started in the park above the town. In addition to this the two neighboring towns Dobrinishte and Razlog are quickly following the steps of Bansko planning new ski zones inside Pirin National Park. Local authorities of Razlog have given permits for hotels and apartments comprising a total of 200,000 beds.

So, buying a property in Bulgaria may sometimes secure you too many neighbors and also make you a silent accomplice in destroying the country’s nature.

Other areas where attention should be paid are along the Black Sea coast. Strandzha Nature Park, for example, begins just south of Tsarevo town and goes all the way down to the Turkish border.

Zlatni Pyasytsi Nature Park is next to Golden Sands resort on the Northern Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. There are also several protected areas along the coast that should also be taken into consideration.