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Back to Basics - Foreign Ownership Laws

The most basic of questions facing foreigners considering property purchases in Thailand and Phuket naturally involve understanding the basics of land title, what they can buy and how to go about a purchase in a prudent manner The following series of articles to be published over the next three months examine these basic issues.

This month I will explain a little about the different types of land title in Phuket.

It is pertinent to note that by no means all land in Phuket (and even less in many other rural parts of Thailand) are titled or even surveyed to any degree of accuracy. This is particularly true of the hilly and or forested sections of the island and direct coastal lands. Comprehensive titling cannot exist without complete land surveys and unlike many western countries the process of national land surveys is still an ongoing process in Thailand. Up until a few decades ago it was possible to simply stake a claim over a piece of jungle, register that claim and farm or otherwise develop that land (some of these claims still exist and can in some cases be converted to title deeds) but thereafter the government stopped this free for all and in essence claimed that all remaining untitled hillside and forested lands were Forestry Department Lands (or National Park). These new lands were never surveyed in any detail, so inevitably encroachment and ownership disputes have continued. This has been especially obvious this year with a continuing highly publicised examination of a small number of contested land plots.

There has however, been a nation wide project running for several decades now to accurately survey and title all property in Thailand. This work has been proceeding very slowly province by province - Since the end of 2001 , when it became Phuket's turn, well over 1,000 titles have been upgraded and many more of the titles in Phuket will be re-surveyed and converted to Chanott ti din (see below). This has been a welcome move that will once and for all define land location boundary and ownership and make any further encroachment of forest lands very difficult if not impossible.

True title deeds (Chanott ti din) previously only to be found in about 10% of the most and longest developed parts of the island are as noted above on the increase. Chanott titles, issued by the Provincial office of the Thai Land Department, are accurately surveyed, plotted in relation to a national survey grid and also marked by unique numbered marker posts set in the ground. It is the long term goal of the Land Department, that all land in Thailand will be covered under the Chanott title system.

Most "titles" in Phuket are however still of the Nor. Sor. Sam or Nor Sor. Sam Kor. (N.S.3.) variety and are in the strictest interpretation "land exploration testimonial deeds". They are however to all practical purposes land title deeds (issued and maintained by the Ampher , the District land office) in as much as clear records of ownership are maintained, and that they may be sold, leased, used as mortgage collateral etc.. In the case of the Nor. Sor. Sam. (but not the more recently issued Nor. Sor. Sam. Kor.) there is however a requirement that 30 days public notice is posted before any change of status over the land can be registered .

N.S.3. titles are in general less accurately surveyed than Chanott titles. In the case of the older (now increasingly rare N.S.3.) titles the boundaries are only recorded in relation to the neighboring plots and survey errors in length of boundary or area of as much as 20% are not unusual. The newer Nor. Sor. Sam. Kor. is in general much more accurately surveyed and each plot is crossed referenced to a master survey of the area and a corresponding aerial photograph. For this reason whenever purchasing N.S.3. land which lacks clearly defined physical boundaries it is a wise precaution to ask the owner to stake out the boundaries and then ask neighboring land owners to confirm the vendors interpretation of the boundary - don't rely solely on the drawing on the deed.

The Chanott and the Nor. Sor. Sam. Kor. are the only titles over which registerable right of ownership or lease can exist, and are as such the only ones that a prudent foreigner should consider.

Below the Chanott and N.S.3.. title there are a host of other forms of land claim document such as the Sor. Kor. Nung (S.K.1)., the Tor. Bor. Tor. Hoc. (T.B.T.6) and the Tor. Bor. Tor. Ha.(T.B.T.5.). These rights are essentially a form of squatter or settlers claim which has been filed with the district office and upon which a small fee has been paid. Unlike the Chanott and N.S.3.. it is neither possible to register a sale or lease over these land rights, nor will a bank accept them for collateral and most importantly you cannot apply for (or obtain) approval to build on such land.

In certain circumstances based on the length of the claim and the use to which the land has been put, it is possible to upgrade these land claims (to N.S.3. or Chanott title). The steps involved in such an application and the number of government department required to approve such an application (where such approval is often discretionary) is however quite daunting and most definitely not recommended to anyone without the best of connections at the district, provincial and (in many cases) national level.

The relatively recently issued Sor. Bor Kor. titles about which there has been such political scandal (both in 1996 and this year in Phuket) are, while issued based upon historical possessory right to untitled woodland, very different to the above claims. These are true title deeds, accurately surveyed and pegged (like a Chanott). They may be mortgaged, planning permission for development may be sought and granted. The one significant thing that may not happen with a Sor. Bor Kor, is that it may not be leased, sold or transferred (except under last will and testament).