Slovakia: Changes in Slovak real estate & construction legislation
1) Constitutional protection of agricultural land
Agricultural and forested land are considered to be non-renewable natural resources and are given special protection by Slovak law. According to the Act No. 140/2014 Coll. on the acquisition of ownership of agricultural land, the rules on the acquisition of this land outside built-up areas (outside urban zones) are tightened. For foreign companies without (i) a long-term registered office in the Slovak Republic (at least 10 years) and (ii) an agricultural business operation in the Slovak Republic, the acquisition of such agricultural land is excluded.
All offers for sale of such agricultural land have to be published in the register held on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Slovak Republic. The following sequence of possible owners of the land has to be observed: an owner of agricultural land is entitled to sell the land only to (i) a person who has operated an agricultural business for at least 3 years in the municipality where the land is located, (ii) a co-owner of the land or (iii) a close associate or related person. Other persons may purchase the agricultural land only in the cases stated in the Act No. 140/2014 Coll.
2) Expropriation of lands for the purposes of acceleration of building permit procedures for highway construction
According to the amendment of the Act No. 50/1976 Coll. (the Building Act), if certain properties need to be expropriated due to a highway construction project, a planning decision may be issued even without the consent of the owners of the properties concerned. The amended Building Act stipulates that the builder (usually the State) may apply for a building permit even without owning the respective properties; the builder only needs to submit documents proving it has initiated expropriation proceedings.
Furthermore, a new legal instrument – known as temporary ownership – has been introduced and stipulated in the Slovak legal order. The expropriator may obtain the temporary ownership at its request during the expropriation proceedings. In a decision on temporary ownership issued by the relevant district authority, the scope of the permitted works on the properties concerned must be stipulated. Only works that enable the properties to be restored to their original state may be allowed.
In certain circumstances, real estate (shopping centres, administrative buildings, etc.) in the immediate vicinity of the planned highways may be threatened by this new legislation. For the acquisition of properties, the relevant zoning plans should be taken into account.
3) Closing loopholes in the Act on Environmental Impact Assessment
Act No. 24/2006 Coll. on Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) has been amended to prevent the Act being circumvented by dividing large building projects into smaller ones. If there are several consecutive changes of the same planned project which individually do not reach the thresholds, yet together add up to the thresholds stipulated by the law, these changes will be considered as one project.
Furthermore, according to the amended EIA Act, the screening decision (rozhodnutie vydané v zisťovacom konaní) has to specify whether the proposed project is subject to an EIA. If not, the screening decision must also contain specific conditions which eliminate or minimise the impact of the project on the environment.
Developers and construction companies should make sure the content of screening decisions complies with the law. If some parts of the screening decisions are missing (incl. the aforementioned obligatory information and conditions), the screening decision may be challenged and the project postponed.