Last month I looked at the various ways in which a foreigner may hold interests in property in Thailand, this month I will explain a little about the different types of land ownership 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. Many of these claims still exist and can in some cases be converted to title deeds, 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.
In a recent efforts (taking place in various provinces nationwide over the last half dozen years) to define once and for all the boundaries of the disputed forest lands and prevent further encroachments, a new policy of granting (accurately surveyed) utilization right to landless people making these encroachments has been in operation. Well publicized allegations, and legal proceedings (now controversially dropped), of abuses of this claim procedure for issuing the so called Sor. Bor. Kor. land titles by the rich and wealthy in Phuket, was the source of down fall of the last Chuan government and have still to be finally resolved in the intervening two years.
True title deeds (Chanott ti din) are indeed only to be found in the most and longest developed parts of the island and account for less than 10% of the total land area of Phuket. 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, but with currently available funds, manpower and resources this process will take several decades to complete.
Most "titles" in Phuket are however 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 necessary 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 registrable right of ownership or lease can exist, and are as such the only ones that a prudent foreigner should consider. Summaries of some of the lesser land title/claims will be covered next month.
(to be continued)