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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 3, 2008
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Buying Agricultural Land in Poland
September 3, 2008   
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Much of Poland, even urban Poland, is agricultural. This is not to say that the country is a patchwork of fields, orchards and gardens, much less a ringin for the Tolkien's hobbit-inhabited Shire. It simply means that land may be technically classified as agricultural and that this may lumber would-be purchasers with onerous constraints.

By now you're probably thinking that all this is building up to a proclamation about the indispensability of lawyers. Well, we can only say that we well and truly earn our keep when it comes to purchasing agricultural land in Poland.

So just how does Polish law define agricultural land? Polish law defines agricultural land as land suitable for cultivating crops or breeding animals. This definition encompasses market gardening and fish farming. According to Article 2 of the Act on Shaping the Agricultural System of 11 April 2003 (Journal of Laws No. 64/ 592), agricultural land is land as defined by the Civil Code except that it excludes land located in areas designated for non-agricultural purposes in spatial development (zoning) plans. A zoning plan describes how the local (municipal) authorities have designated the land in a given area.

So much for the theory. How does all this pan out in practice?

All but a miniscule proportion of the country's zoning plans adopted prior to Jan. 1, 1995 expired by force of law on Jan. 1, 2004. Most municipalities have yet to adopt new zoning plans and this is going to be a long, arduous and expensive procedure. Therefore, usually when someone wants to buy land classified as agricultural (further called "land"), the notary preparing the transfer agreement will ask for the land record entry. A land record is a register of data on the location and type of parcels of land kept by the district governor (starosta). Land records classify land as agricultural, forestry, developed, undeveloped, ecological, non-arable, submerged or miscellaneous. Notaries classify any land not covered by a zoning plan as agricultural. This gives the Agricultural Land Agency a pre-emptive right to the land. Notaries will therefore not draw up sale-purchase agreements unless the Agency chooses not to exercise its pre-emptive right. The notary then forwards the conditional agreement to the Agency. The Agency can then purchase the land within a month of receiving the notice from the notary. Any sale of agricultural land effected without giving the Agency the opportunity to exercise its pre-emptive right is invalid by virtue of law. The upside is that the Agency seldom exercises its pre-emptive right. Should the Agency waive its pre-emptive right, the notary will draw up the final transfer agreement and the land is yours unless you happen to be a foreigner, in which case you cannot acquire the land without the prior consent of the Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration. Being an EU citizen carries no weight when it comes to purchasing agricultural land. According to Article 8 point 2 of the Act on the Acquisition of Land by Foreigners of 21 March 1920 (the Act from 1920 is still binding) (Journal of Laws from 2004/167/1758 as amended), all foreigners, whether in the European Economic Area or not, are obliged to obtain a permit from the Minister until May 1, 2016. Foreigners therefore have to apply to the Minister and produce a number of documents. These proceedings can take months as the Minister first has to get the transaction approved by the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Agriculture. Foreigners are only free to purchase when they have a permit from the Minister and when the Agency waives its pre-emptive right. This is merely a brief outline of the general rules of purchasing agricultural land in Poland. The situation can be much more complicated in practice and there are many exceptions and conditions lying in wait for the unsuspecting would-be purchaser. This is why, as we wrote at the beginning, even lawyers are worth their salt sometimes.

Hanna Żemantowska, Anna Zalewska
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