The Bulgarian legislation has a long history of allowing the validation of illegal structures where the owner of land constructs a building and then files for a construction permit and a use permit. The option to validate illegal structures was finally removed in 2003. However, by an amendment in the Spatial Development Act (SDA) in October 2012, the governing political party suddenly decided to give the owners of buildings constructed until 2003 the option to validate them – probably to gain votes in the 2013 parliamentary elections.
History of building validation in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian construction administration is notorious for its bureaucracy. Many people use this bureaucracy as an excuse to begin construction without first obtaining all necessary permits. For example, an inspection made 10 years ago by the state authorities responsible for illegal construction showed that all but one of the residential houses built in a prestigious neighbourhood of Sofia (where, incidentally, the current prime minister resides) were illegal. The only house with proper construction documents was owned by a judge.
Another important issue relates to construction by state-owned companies during the communist regime. The economy was planned by the communist government, so all companies were owned by the state. Often buildings were constructed without construction documents or, if any, the responsible municipal authorities did not take proper care of the documents and they were lost.
To address these issues, the SDA of 2001 provides for a possibility to validate constructed buildings as long as they were built in accordance with the existing zoning plans and construction requirements. The so-called “tolerance certificate”, which replaced all necessary construction documents, was sufficient for buildings constructed until 7 April 1987 and with some exceptions until 30 June 1998.
A 2003 amendment to the SDA prescribed a six months term for validation of buildings constructed between 1998 and 2003 as long as they have been constructed in accordance with the existing zoning plans and construction requirements. Hence, the possibility to validate structures no longer existed.
The 2012 amendment to the SDA
Nevertheless, since many owners did not take advantage of the previous “amnesty” from the 2003 amendment, in 2012 the governing political party made a sudden turn and decided to provide the owners of buildings constructed prior to 2003 with a new possibility to validate them. The 2012 amendment of the SDA provides the following options for validation:
- All buildings constructed before April 2001 (under the previous text of the SDA this term was 7 April 1987 and with certain exceptions 30 June 1998) that are missing construction documents (eg, technical project, construction permit, use permit) and that were allowed under the legislation at the time of their construction or under the current legislation are lawful. The only requirement is that the owner obtain the “tolerance certificate” if they are transferred.
- Buildings constructed between 1 April 2001 and 22 June 2003 that do not have construction documents but were still allowed under the legislation in force at the time of their construction or under the current legislation may be validated within one year term as of the promulgation of the 2012 SDA amendment.
In summary, owners of illegal buildings constructed before April 2001 are not required to do anything to legalise their ownership, unless they decide to transfer them. However, owners of illegal buildings constructed between 1 April 2001 and 22 June 2003 must file all documents necessary to validate them within one year. Otherwise, they will be demolished. The law further allows the owner of a building to prove the date of the finalisation of the construction by all means admissible under the civil law, including by witness statements.
Since many owners did not take advantage of the previous "amnesty" from the 2003 amendment, in 2012 the governing political party made a sudden turn and decided to provide the owners of buildings constructed prior to 2003 with a new possibility to validate them.