Croatia – Foreigners Unwelcome?

Local Council in Sibenik targets British house owner

(Extract from the blog of Jonty C. Entwistle, UK-based Estate Agent, 29/07/2011)

As we have often said in this blog, buying houses in Croatia has been simplified considerably in the last few years and many of our clients have benefited. We expect even more interest after Croatia joins the EU next year. However, investing in Croatia might still have to come with a small health warning, it seems. Not all regions of the country appear to be as welcoming as others.

Acting, they say, as a result of continual complaints from a neighbour concerning a small metal awning frame attached to the front of a house owned by an Englishman on the central Dalmatian island of Krapanj, Sibenik municipality recently despatched a team of contractors, accompanied by two large policemen, to remove it. A small occurrence of minor significance, you may think, but it appears there are circumstances surrounding this which deserve somewhat closer attention.

The house owner, Mr. *****, informed the delegation when they arrived unannounced that the matter of the awning had been extensively discussed in the past and that he had direct approval from top officials at Mayoral level both from Sibenik and the island of Krapanj itself for such an awning. This failed to prevent the delegation from taking action by removing the metal frame and confiscating it. The Municipality representative apparently even told Mr ***** that he should consider himself lucky that they were not going to confiscate his small flower pots containing geranium shrubs because his neighbour had complained about them as well.

I am perhaps not aware of all details but, from what I have heard, this action appears clearly to be yet another over the top response from local officials in central Dalmatia. The awning structure was apparently there for a good reason. Since Sibenik Council itself undertook construction work to raise the level of the Krapanj port, the house entrance now lies below ground level and some kind of awning is necessary to deflect rainwater from flowing into the house through the front door. One has to question the motivations of a local Council which could reasonably expect someone to let their house be flooded every time it rains as a direct result of their own construction decisions? A closer look at the incident reveals even more disturbing circumstances.

I discover that identical structures, which are locally made, exist over front doors all over the island, many or most of them there for similar reasons. This, I am told, was pointed out and, indeed, demonstrated to officials by indicating the very house next door to Mr. ***** on the other side. Nevertheless, it seems only Mr. *****’s house was targeted for such action on behalf of the municipality.

From our perspective as an organisation dealing with clients interested in finding property in Croatia, this is worrying. It is clear that Mr. ***** was made a victim of this heavy-handed action simply because he is a foreigner. No other obvious explanation exists if no one else on the island has been targeted. It furthermore seems obvious that the original complainants, a certain Dr Frane Boko and his wife, are displaying and have previously displayed, an undeniable measure of prejudice towards their neighbour, almost certainly because he is foreign. Sad to say, such anti-foreigner sentiment does still occasionally exist in Croatia, particularly amongst older people, though one hopes the forthcoming accession into the EU and the passing of time might eventually render this insignificant.

Whatever their motives, they have obviously used their influence within the Sibenik Municipality to bring about this unreasonable action against Mr ***** in spite of reassurances given by the Mayor himself. It is therefore, sadly, clear that the once hospitable reputation of Sibenik in the eyes of foreign visitors and investors is under threat.

Reluctantly, and genuinely so, we will no longer feel able to recommend to prospective overseas buyers that they seek out houses in the Sibenik area. As regular followers of this blog will know, this is not the first case we have come across where local officials have acted unreasonably towards overseas buyers. Whilst the municipality is staffed by such ‘politicised’ personnel who choose, for whatever motives, to discriminate against foreign investors, the risk is just too great. Far better, at least for the time being, to seek out investments in the northern Adriatic where authorities actively encourage overseas buyers by simplifying procedures and regulations and some potentially excellent property investments are regularly hitting the market. We stand ready, naturally, to advise…