Legal restrictions on the purchase of real estate due to its designation as forest land
Forests and forest areas in Greece are protected and defined by the provisions of the Constitution and by the current Forest Law, including but not limited to: a) Law 998/79, as amended and in force today, according to the provisions that this law replaced the Decree Law 86/1969 (Forest Code), b) Law 3208 /2003, c) Law 3818/2010, d) Law 3889/2010, e) Law 4280/2014, f) Law 4315/2014, g) Law 4351/2015, h) Law 4389/2016, i) Law 4409/2016 [amendment of No. 45], j) Law 4462/2017, k) Law 4467/2017, l) Law 4483/2017 (Article 142), m) Law 4546/2018 (Article 44) and n) Presidential Decree 32/2016. The definition of the concepts of forest, forest in general, and grassland is derived from Articles 24 and 117 of the Constitution of 1975 and its revision in 2001, as well as from Law No. 998/1979.
With the provisions of Chapter I of article 153 of Law No. 4389/2016 (Government Gazette A’ 94/27.05.2016), the procedure for the preparation of forest maps was activated and updated, as described in provisions 13 to 25 of Law No. 3889/2010.
Therefore, based on the current legal framework and in particular Article 20 par. 4 of law 3889/2010, as amended by Article 213 of Law 5037/2023 (A’ 78/28.03. 2023) “After the ratification of the forest map, any transfer, establishment, alteration and generally any change of the rights in rem, which is carried out by legal transaction inter vivos , except for declarations of acceptance of inheritance, in the forest areas in general of paragraph 1 of Article 13, which are included in the above mentioned law, it is invalid and ineffective , if it is not accompanied by a relevant certificate of the competent department of the relevant Forestry Directorate, which confirms the character of the area. The above certificate shall not be issued for areas on the forest map that are not included in the forest areas in general. Specifically for the areas included in the forest map, for which the objections of the interested parties have been accepted, instead of the above certificate, a copy of this decision with the online posting number (A.D.A.) additionally with an attached topographical diagram of dependent coordinates of the E.G.S.A., on which the author certifies that the property is the one, in respect of which the objections submitted have been accepted, shall be attached to the relevant contract…”. The amendment that has recently been introduced is that declarations of acceptance of inheritance are excepted from the above restrictions.
The classification of an area as forest therefore imposes restrictions on its transfer, but it also imposes restrictions on its use.
Despite the fact that the ownership stauts does not directly concern the forest maps, but is an incidental issue, because the forest maps regulate exclusively the character of the land based on human interventions, its past use and the presence or absence of forest vegetation, without interfering with the ownership status, and therefore formally the Forest map does not affect the property rights of individuals or the State, however, in practice any private land shown as forested on the Forest Map is claimed by the State, with exceptions (recognized private forests according to Article 10 of Law 3208/2010 and forest areas). A similar claim exists for grassland. The State’s claim to ownership of forest and grassland is made through the State’s declaration to the National Cadastral Office. This creates a rebuttable presumption of ownership. In the event that the Greek State claims rights to an area of land because of its forestry character, then it should be noted that usufruct cannot be invoked in favour of the citizen concerned as a cause of ownership, because usufruct could not be claimed against the State. On the other hand, in order to challenge the forest character of a property in the context of objections, it is not sufficient for the interested party to allege the private character of the property. Such a ground is pointless because the public or private nature of a land is not in itself decisive in order to be classified as forest land. Furthermore, it is a judicial precedent that the content of the titles of ownership is not binding on the administration as regards the classification of an area as agricultural land – that is to say, as non-forest land.
In summary, while the forest character of an area constitutes a basis for the assertion of property rights on the part of the Greek State, the character of the area as private does not, however, negate the forest character and the assertion of property rights on the part of the State. The removal of the doubt as to the forest or non-forest character of an area in order to allow its transfer is done through the procedure of objections to the forest map.
To expedite the final resolution of the ownership status, Article 152 of Law No. 4819/2021, case IV was added to paragraph 1 of Article 10 of Law No. 3208/2003, to the effect that “The State shall not claim ownership rights to forests, forest land and land in cases a’ and b’ of paragraph 5 of Article 3 of Law No. 3208/2003 that. 998/1979 (A’ 289), for which the Greek State does not have title deeds or other sufficient evidence of its ownership, the acts of lease, concession or exploitation, exploitation and protection of the land as public and, at the same time, the claimants of the land have title deeds, themselves or their licensors, which have been drawn up by 1.7.2001 at the latest, even if they have been transcribed later.”. The areas to which this regulation refers, on the basis of Article 62 of Law No 998/1979, are those located in the districts of the Ionian Islands, Crete, the Prefectures of Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Cyclades, the islands of Kythera, Antikythera, ‘the Dodecanese, except for the islands where the cadastral regulation is in force’ and the area of Mani as defined by the administrative boundaries of the Kallikratic Municipalities of Eastern and Western Mani.”
However, even if an area is not claimed by the Greek State as forest land, it is nevertheless subjected to very significant restrictions on its use, which in practice will act as a deterrent for a potential buyer.
Thus, depending on the designation of an area in the forest maps (indicatively AA, PA, ID, etc.), there are similar restrictions on its use, even if the State does not claim ownership rights.
A particular problem that had arisen with the ratification of the forest maps was with the land classified as AD and DA, i.e., former agricultural land that was rescued due to abandonment or forest land that was illegally cleared for cultivation, as well as houses built on forest land without the required building permit, i.e. they are arbitrary forest land. For the first category, which includes areas that appear on aerial photographs of 1945 in agricultural form and were subsequently rescued due to abandonment, Article 67 of Law 998/1979, as replaced by Article 93 of Law 4915/2022 stipulated that “1. The State shall not claim ownership rights to areas which appear on aerial photographs of 1945, or, if these are not sharp, of 1960, in agricultural form and which were subsequently been rescued, irrespective of the form they later acquired, on which the State does not establish ownership rights based on title. Administrative removal orders issued in respect of the abovementioned land shall be revoked even if they have been finalized in court.” The subsequent paragraphs of this article and, depending on the classification of the relevant area either as a forest or forest ecosystem or as a forest area (which exists when the wild woody vegetation, tall or bushy, is sparse in the above-mentioned ensemble), provided for the agricultural and arboricultural use of the area in the first case (paragraph 2 of Article 67 of Law No. 998/1979) and the non-application of forestry legislation in the second case (paragraph 3 of Article 67 of Law No. 998/1979).
As regards the second category, i.e. former forest land that was cleared without legal administrative acts and used for agricultural use, article 216 of Law 5037/2023 introduced a regulation, by which article 47 of Law 5037/2023. 998/1979 was formulated so that the clearing of forests is exceptionally allowed under the terms and conditions provided for in this provision (agricultural cooperatives, producer groups or natural persons are allowed to clear forest areas or use by them of unoccupied land or a corridor within a forest or forest area, of an area of up to thirty (30) acres in the case of natural persons, for agricultural or horticultural cultivation or for the planting of a mixture of wild and fruit trees or for the planting of forest species for the production of goods, in particular chestnuts, walnuts and truffles, or for the establishment of vineyards or plantations of aromatic plants. The grafting of wild fruit or fruit trees is also permitted. Within the aforementioned areas, structures serving the agricultural holding, such as water tanks, boreholes, electricity meters and sheds are permitted in accordance with the relevant legislation on such structures).
In addition, regarding forest arbitrary houses, the owners of such houses, which are located within forest areas and have been erected without a building permit, can declare their residence on the special online platform of article 52 of Law No. 4685/2020, which is in operation from 05 October 2022.
Finally, for the areas where the forest map has not been posted yet, which concern town and settlement plans, the boundaries of which have not been approved by administrative acts but by other provisions, such as for settlements before 1923, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is planning to post forest maps in 2023, in order to clarify their forest or non-forest character. For these areas, the procedure of Article 14 of Law 998/1979 applies, which provides for the issuance of a classification act by the locally competent forestry officer or the director of forests.
* The information is accurate to the best of our knowledge as at the time of writing. We have no obligation to update it. We accept no responsibility against any third party who is not a client of the firm and has not signed the terms of our engagement.