A recent Wall Street Journal article showcases the newly-built home of Belgian photographer John Vink and also demonstrates how complicated property ownership and building construction can be in the Kingdom of Cambodia. In general, foreigners are not allowed to own land in Cambodia, but may hold a minority (49 percent) stake, with a Cambodian national holding the remaining majority stake, in a company that holds ownership rights to the land. Cf. Article 20 of the New Land Law (2001).  The article does not specifically mention whether Mr. Vink pursued this option to preserve some of his ownership rights, but it is a fairly common way for foreign landholders to do so.

Mr. Vink bought the land for his home near Kep from a local religious order that is moving to a new location. Usually, such as transfer would be prohibited by law, as monastery lands may not be sold and may only be rented for religious purposes according to Article 20 of the New Land Law (2001). Perhaps because the order is moving to a new location, the land has been reclassified and is therefore alienable. There are several categories of land and differing rights of ownership for each in Cambodia. Again, the article does not indicate why a variance was permitted in this case, but it’s always a good idea to check out which legal category the land you might be interested in falls under before beginning negotiations.

Also illustrated by this piece is the often confusing regulatory process for construction in the Kingdom, which can endanger projects at almost any stage of completion. From the article:

Building on a hilltop is unusual in Cambodia because of cultural customs and costs, says Mr. Vink, so he faced some challenges in ensuring that he had an experienced contractor and proper permits. At one point a month after construction began, he thought all the permits were in order, until an inspector from the local environmental protection office showed up and ordered a halt to the project. But $300 in “fees” later—a sizeable sum in Cambodia—the necessary permits were obtained and the project moved forward, Mr. Vink says.

Congratulations to Mr. Vink and his wife for their lovely new home, but let their experience be an illustration of the type of pitfalls that anyone can face navigating the legal and regulatory system here in the Kingdom of Wonder.

See here for related BNG reports.