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Buying property in Tanzania: scams and pitfalls

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Everything you need to know is included in our Tanzania Property Pack

Tanzania's potential for investment and its stunning natural beauty are gaining the interest of foreign real estate investors.

Navigating the local property market can be a bit of a puzzle though, especially for non-residents. There are several hurdles and surprises that you should be ready for.

Both our property-owning customers and our local associates have brought a range of concerns to our attention. We've listed them all in our Tanzania Property Pack.

This article provides a brief overview of potential pitfalls that may arise during the property buying process in this country.

Is it safe or risky to invest in real estate in Tanzania?

Firstly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that while Tanzania presents an enticing market for property investment due to its growing economy and urbanization, it also possesses unique challenges.

For example, the case of foreign ownership is specifically complex.

Foreign nationals are not allowed to own land outright for residential purposes; they can only acquire a lease, usually for 99 years.

A notable situation was the case of a foreign investor who purchased land through a Tanzanian company, only to discover that the land was within a village boundary, making the purchase void and leading to a substantial financial loss.

Scams in Tanzania are, unfortunately, not rare, and they can sometimes involve collusion between dishonest agents and local authorities.

The case of a foreign investor being sold a property with a forged title deed is an example. Such incidents underscore the importance of verifying every document and obtaining local legal advice.

In terms of pitfalls, Tanzania has seen instances where land disputes arise due to the ambiguity of boundaries and ownership. One recurring problem is that land can be sold by family members without the consent of the full family, who may later contest the sale.

This happened to a foreigner who bought a property in Zanzibar, only to find themselves embroiled in a legal dispute with family members of the seller who claimed a share of ownership.

Regarding the legal system, while the law provides protection, enforcement can be problematic. Property disputes often take years to resolve in the court system, which can be challenging for foreigners.

A case in point is a foreign investor who waited over five years for resolution on a land dispute due to bureaucratic delays and an overburdened legal system.

The Tanzanian government has attempted to simplify and regulate the property market with reforms such as the establishment of a land bank, aimed at facilitating easier access to land for investment. However, the impact of such measures can be slow to materialize, and abrupt policy shifts have been known to happen, causing disarray in the market.

An example is the sudden imposition of a cap on rental incomes for expatriates, which significantly affected property values and rental markets overnight.

In terms of the transparency of the buying process, it is less straightforward compared to many Western countries.

An investor might find that the local valuation methods are less transparent, with comparable sales data hard to come by. Moreover, there’s the issue of multiple land registries – the Ministry of Lands holds one, and local municipalities have their own – which can lead to conflicting information.

Foreign investors should be acutely aware of these issues and approach the Tanzanian property market with a high degree of caution.

Rigorous due diligence is essential – one should not only verify property titles but also scrutinize the seller's history, the physical condition and location of the property, and potential land use restrictions.

The employment of a reputable legal advisor with a good track record and local knowledge is not just recommended but essential.

Buying real estate in Tanzania can be risky

An increasing number of foreign investors are showing interest in Tanzania. However, 90% of them will make mistakes. Avoid the pitfalls with our comprehensive guide.

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Avoid these pitfalls when purchasing property in Tanzania

The concept of "Village Land"

When buying residential property in Tanzania, a common pitfall that you might not be aware of, especially as a foreigner, is overlooking the importance of verifying land rights and land use plans, particularly in relation to the concept of "Village Land".

This issue is unique to Tanzania, given the country's specific land tenure system.

In Tanzania, land is categorized into three main types as General Land, Reserve Land, and Village Land.

Village Land is managed by local villages and is governed by customary laws, which can vary significantly from one village to another.

As a foreigner, you might be more familiar with the procedures for purchasing General Land, which is more straightforward and akin to property transactions in many other countries.

The mistake often occurs in failing to thoroughly investigate the status of Village Land when considering a purchase. This land may have complex customary rights attached to it, which can lead to disputes or complications in ownership rights down the line.

The frequency of this issue is notable, especially in rural and semi-urban areas where Village Land is more prevalent.

You should ensure to engage with local authorities, like the village council, and potentially seek the assistance of a local lawyer or real estate expert who understands the intricacies of Tanzanian land laws and customs.

This step is crucial in verifying the land rights and understanding any customary claims or restrictions that might exist on the property you intend to buy.

Moreover, you should be aware that, as a foreigner, your rights to own land directly are limited.

Generally, foreigners are only allowed to own buildings, not the land itself, which is typically held on a leasehold basis from the government. This distinction is crucial and often misunderstood, leading to complications post-purchase.

"Right of Occupancy" risk

Another specific pitfall in buying residential property in Tanzania that you, as a foreigner, may not be aware of involves the concept of "Right of Occupancy."

This is a unique aspect of Tanzanian property law that differs significantly from land ownership norms in many other countries.

In Tanzania, the land is owned by the state, and what is typically bought or sold is the "Right of Occupancy," which is essentially a long-term lease from the government. This right grants you the use of the land for a specified period, often 33, 66, or 99 years. The mistake often lies in not fully understanding the terms and limitations of this Right of Occupancy.

For instance, the rights and obligations associated with a 99-year Right of Occupancy can be quite different from those of a shorter term.

You should be particularly cautious about the remaining term of the Right of Occupancy when purchasing property.

If the term is nearing its end, it may not be as valuable or secure as you might think. Renewing this right can involve complex bureaucratic processes and is not always guaranteed.

Additionally, there are restrictions on the transfer of Rights of Occupancy to foreigners.

As a non-citizen, you are typically only allowed to acquire land for investment purposes, approved by the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC).

This means that you cannot directly purchase a residential property for personal use unless it is part of an investment approved by the TIC.

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The issue of "Mila" and "Desturi"

A lesser-known but significant pitfall for foreigners buying residential property in Tanzania relates to the issue of "Mila" and "Desturi" – traditional customs and norms, particularly in the context of land transactions.

These terms represent the local cultural practices and unwritten rules that play a crucial role in property dealings in various parts of Tanzania.

In many Tanzanian communities, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, the local customs (Mila) and traditions (Desturi) can have a substantial impact on property transactions.

These customs may govern aspects such as who is considered a legitimate seller, how land can be used, or even specific rites or approvals required from local leaders or elders before a sale is deemed socially and culturally acceptable.

As a foreigner, you might be well-versed in the legal aspects of property acquisition in Tanzania, but overlooking Mila and Desturi can lead to complications.

For instance, you might legally purchase land only to find out later that the local community does not recognize the sale due to non-adherence to certain customary practices.

The frequency of such issues is notable, especially in transactions involving land in more traditional areas.

It's a pitfall that's often overlooked because these customs are not formally documented and vary greatly from one locality to another. You are advised to engage deeply with the local community and understand the specific customs and traditions relevant to property transactions in the area where you intend to buy.

This might involve consulting with local leaders, elders, or long-standing residents.

Understanding and respecting these local customs can be as important as the legal aspects of the property transaction.

Additionally, hiring a local intermediary or consultant who is familiar with both the legal and cultural aspects of land transactions in Tanzania can be invaluable.

They can bridge the gap between formal legal requirements and local customary practices, ensuring a smoother and more culturally sensitive property acquisition process.

The problems of "Zoning Laws and Regulations"

Another unique and often overlooked pitfall in buying residential property in Tanzania, especially for a foreigner like you, relates to the complexities of the "Zoning Laws and Regulations" which can be very specific and stringent in certain areas.

In Tanzania, different regions and municipalities have specific zoning laws that dictate the use of land and the types of structures that can be built.

These laws are designed to regulate urban development, control population density, and ensure land is used efficiently and safely.

However, they can vary significantly from one area to another, and sometimes even within the same city or region.

The mistake often occurs when foreign buyers assume that a property can be used for any purpose or that obtaining permits for changes in use or renovations will be straightforward. For instance, you might purchase a property with the intention of converting it into a commercial space or significantly modifying its structure, only to find that local zoning laws prohibit such changes.

The frequency of issues related to zoning laws is notable, particularly in rapidly urbanizing areas like Dar es Salaam, Arusha, and Mwanza.

These cities have specific zoning requirements that might not be immediately apparent to outsiders.

You are advised to thoroughly investigate the zoning laws applicable to any property you are considering purchasing in Tanzania. This includes understanding the permitted uses of the land, restrictions on building heights, density regulations, and any future plans for the area that might affect your property.

Engaging with local authorities, such as the city or municipal council, and consulting with a local real estate attorney or a consultant specializing in Tanzanian property law can provide valuable insights into these zoning regulations.

They can help you navigate the complexities of local laws and avoid purchasing a property that does not align with your intended use.

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The unique risks of "Water Rights and Access"

Another unique and often overlooked pitfall in the process of buying residential property in Tanzania, particularly for a foreigner like yourself, involves the complexities surrounding "Water Rights and Access."

This aspect is particularly crucial in Tanzania due to the country's varied geographical and climatic conditions.

In many parts of Tanzania, especially in more arid regions or rapidly growing urban areas, access to water is a significant issue. The mistake often lies in assuming that a property will have adequate and legal access to water resources.

In Tanzania, water rights are not always inherently included with the land rights.

This means that owning a piece of land does not automatically grant you access to water on or near that property.

The frequency of water access issues is notable, especially in areas like Dodoma, which is in a semi-arid region, or in parts of Dar es Salaam, where rapid urbanization is putting pressure on water resources.

In such areas, ensuring legal and sustainable access to water can be a complex and challenging process.

You are advised to conduct a thorough investigation into the water rights associated with any property you consider purchasing.

This includes understanding the sources of water available (such as municipal supply, boreholes, or rivers), the legal rights or permits required to access these sources, and any restrictions or conditions that might apply.

It's also important to consider the long-term sustainability of the water source. With climate change and increasing urbanization, water sources that are reliable today may become stressed in the future.

Engaging with local environmental experts or hydrologists, as well as local authorities, can provide valuable insights into these issues.

Additionally, understanding the local community's relationship with water sources can be crucial.

In some areas, there may be traditional or community-based norms governing water use that you should be aware of and respect.

"Ushuru wa Ardhi" or "Land Tax"

A specific and often unexpected pitfall in buying residential property in Tanzania for a foreigner like you is navigating the intricacies of "Ushuru wa Ardhi," which translates to "Land Tax."

This concept is particularly vital to understand due to Tanzania's unique tax system regarding land and property.

In Tanzania, land and property ownership entails an obligation to pay land tax (Ushuru wa Ardhi), which is often not well understood by foreigners. The pitfall lies in underestimating the tax implications of property ownership, including the rates, how they are calculated, and when they are due.

The frequency of issues related to land tax misunderstandings is notable, especially among foreign investors who might be more familiar with different tax structures in their home countries. In Tanzania, the land tax rate can vary based on the location and type of property.

For example, tax rates in urban areas like Dar es Salaam might be significantly higher than in rural areas.

You should ensure to thoroughly understand the land tax obligations for any property you are considering. This includes not only the current tax rate but also any potential changes that might occur, as tax rates can be subject to revisions by local or national authorities.

It's also important to be aware of the process for paying land taxes.

In Tanzania, there can be specific procedures and timelines for tax payments, and failing to adhere to these can result in penalties or even legal issues.

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Importance of the "Valuation Process" risk

Understanding and correctly dealing with the "Valuation Process" can be a unique and challenging pitfall when buying residential property in Tanzania, particularly for a foreigner like yourself.

This process involves the assessment of a property's value for various purposes, including sale, taxation, and securing mortgages. The valuation in Tanzania can be quite different from practices you might be familiar with in other countries.

In Tanzania, property valuation is often required for official transactions, including securing a mortgage, transferring property, and sometimes for taxation purposes.

The challenge arises due to the potential discrepancies between the officially assessed value and the market value, or the value perceived by local communities.

The frequency of issues related to misunderstandings or disagreements over property valuations is significant.

This is especially true in rapidly developing areas or in places where property markets are less formalized. In such areas, the official valuation may not accurately reflect the market reality, leading to disputes or complications in transactions.

You should be particularly cautious and proactive in understanding how the valuation process works in Tanzania. This includes knowing who is authorized to conduct valuations, the methods they use, and how often properties in your area of interest are revalued.

Engaging a reputable and licensed valuer is crucial.

They should have a deep understanding of the local property market and the specific methodologies used in Tanzania.

Additionally, it's wise to seek a second opinion if the valuation results seem incongruent with your understanding of the property's value.

Moreover, being aware of the potential for negotiation based on valuation results is important.

In some cases, the valuation might provide leverage for negotiating the purchase price or the terms of a mortgage.

The issues regarding "Spousal Consent"

A more specific and challenging pitfall for foreigners like you buying residential property in Tanzania is dealing with the intricacies of the "Spousal Consent" requirement in property transactions.

This aspect is deeply rooted in Tanzanian property law and cultural norms, and it's particularly unique in its application and significance.

In Tanzania, if you are buying a property from a married individual, it is mandatory to obtain spousal consent for the transaction. This means that the spouse of the seller must explicitly agree to the sale. The requirement is grounded in the legal principle aimed at protecting family rights and interests in property.

It applies irrespective of whether the property is registered in the name of one spouse or both.

The pitfall occurs when this aspect is overlooked or inadequately addressed.

As a foreigner, you might not be aware of this requirement, or you might underestimate its legal importance.

Failing to obtain spousal consent can lead to significant legal challenges, including the possibility of the sale being declared null and void.

The frequency of issues related to spousal consent is notable, especially in cases where foreign buyers are involved, as they might not be familiar with this legal requirement.

The problem is more pronounced in areas where traditional customs strongly influence property rights.

You should ensure that the seller provides documented proof of spousal consent for the transaction.

This typically involves a written consent form signed by the spouse and sometimes requires witnessing by a legal authority or a local leader.

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"Beacon Certificate" or "Certificate of Beacon Verification"

A more specific and often unexpected pitfall in buying residential property in Tanzania, particularly for a foreigner like you, is related to the "Beacon Certificate" or "Certificate of Beacon Verification."

This is a unique aspect of the Tanzanian property buying process, often overlooked but crucial for ensuring the legitimacy and accuracy of the property boundaries.

In Tanzania, a Beacon Certificate is a document that verifies the physical boundaries of a piece of land.

The process involves a surveyor placing beacons (physical markers) on the land to demarcate its boundaries. The certificate then confirms that this has been done accurately and in accordance with the official land registry.

The pitfall arises when buyers assume that the existing boundaries of a property, as shown by physical markers or as described by the seller, are accurate and legally recognized.

Without a Beacon Certificate, there's a risk of boundary disputes with neighboring properties, which can be costly and time-consuming to resolve.

The frequency of issues related to boundary disputes and inaccuracies in Tanzania is significant, especially in areas where land has been informally divided or where there are historical discrepancies in land records.

You should insist on seeing the Beacon Certificate as part of the property transaction process.

If the property does not have this certificate, or if there are doubts about the accuracy of the existing boundaries, you should commission a new survey by a licensed land surveyor to verify and officially record the boundaries.

The concept of "Usufruct Rights"

Navigating the "Usufruct Rights" in property transactions is another specific and potentially overlooked challenge when buying residential property in Tanzania, especially for foreigners like you.

Usufruct rights are a unique legal concept in Tanzanian land law that can significantly impact property ownership and use.

Usufruct in Tanzania refers to the right to use and enjoy the benefits of someone else's property without owning it. This right is often granted for agricultural land but can apply to residential properties as well.

For instance, a person might have usufruct rights to farm land on a residential property or to use part of the property for specific purposes.

The pitfall arises when buying a property without fully understanding or being aware of existing usufruct rights. You might purchase a property assuming full use and control, only to find out later that someone else legally retains the right to use part of it.

This can lead to complications, disputes, and limitations on how you can use the property.

The frequency of issues related to usufruct rights is particularly notable in rural or semi-urban areas of Tanzania, where such arrangements are more common.

These rights are often established through local customs and may not be immediately apparent in official property documentation.

You should conduct a thorough due diligence process to uncover any existing usufruct rights associated with the property you intend to purchase.

This includes reviewing the property's title deed and any relevant local agreements or arrangements.

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