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Australia - Property Legal Issues

One of the main legal issues that foreign buyers have when wanting to purchase property in Australia is the approval of the FIRB (Foreign Investment Review Board). This is an advisory board which has been established to regulate the purchase of property by foreign investors, to ensure that such purchases are in line with the needs of the community and that such a purchase will not be damaging to the community.

The FIRB reports directly to the department of the Treasury and considers all applications from expats who are not approved migrants, have permanent residency status or have a special category visa. A review by the FIRB can take up to a month. You cannot gain approval to buy ‘a property’. The application must be made for a specific property and if you change your mind about the property you want to buy you will need to make a further application for another property. During the purchase process your contract will need to allow for this period of time and give you a ‘get out’ clause in the event that your application is rejected.

You will not get approval to purchase a property if the board feels that you intend to make money on it by renting it out. If you are purchasing simply to sell the property at a higher price at a later date then your application will also be rejected.

Applications are normally granted easily under certain circumstances though. These include if the applicant is on a temporary visa that still has more than 12 months to run and intends to live in the property themselves. The application will be granted on condition that the property is put up for sale when the applicant returns to their home country. If you are a student aged 18 or over you can be granted permission to purchase on these grounds, but there is a limit of $300k placed on the value of the property that can be purchased. Those who have plans to stay long term, such as retired people and those looking for work will usually be granted permission to buy. As with others, if you choose to leave the country you will be expected to sell the property.

If a foreign company plans to purchase property for members of staff who will be based in the country for more than a year permission will normally be granted provided. The employee who will be residing in the house must be named on the application and companies are not normally granted permission to own more than 2 houses for this purpose.

If a property developer is planning on selling homes in a proposed development to foreign investors they will need to make an application in advance in order to be able to do this. With this permission already in place when a foreign investor buys they are able to then rent out the property at a later date if they choose to do so. A developer will not be granted permission to sell more than half of the properties to foreign investors. When you purchase from such a development it is a good idea to ask for details of the FIRB approval in order to be sure that you can legally own the property.

If the property you are purchasing is an apartment you will need to ensure that your lawyer arranges a Strata Records Inspection which will give all the details of the different fees involved in the property such as maintenance. This will also detail all the regulations concerning common areas.

Property that is located within an ‘Integrated Tourism Resort’ can be purchased by an expat with no need for FIRB approval.

In order to make an application you will need to provide a certain amount of information including your name, address, details of your nationality, the details of the property that you want to buy, a copy of your provisional contract to purchase and your passport details. You may need to provide signed statements that the property is not to be rented out and that when you sell, you will sell to an Australian resident.

New buyers are not responsible for debts on the property as any debt existing on the property is the responsibility of the existing owners. Preservation orders are generally not a problem in Australia as the vast majority of properties are modern buildings.

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