I'm a US citizen. I win a house in France or Portugal. Can I live in it?
December 19, 2018 3:42 AM   Subscribe

Let's say you - a US citizen - win a home in a depopulated region of France or Portugal. The company giving it to you says that all legal issues are YOUR problem. So what are they? AM I allowed to own a home in either of those two places? And if so, are there any restrictions on how long I can live in the home?
posted by rileyray3000 to Law & Government (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Generally speaking, yes you are allowed, but yes there are restrictions (which relate more to your ability to stay in the country generally and less so to do with the fact you own a property there), unless you're a citizen of either country or another EU country.

You need to look at residence permits for either country and how their requirements match your circumstance. These kind of things are highly specific, so any advice on here is going to be general at best.
posted by ryanbryan at 4:15 AM on December 19, 2018

A US citizen is allowed to stay in the Schengen area (including France and Portugal) for 90 days out of any 180-day period without a visa. As noted by ryanbryan, longer visits require either "long-stay visas" or residence permits; here's some info from the French government, for example.

Also, the house is probably taxable income as far as the IRS is concerned, and you'd be on the hook for taxes on the fair market value of the house. Taxes paid to the foreign government would probably be deductible from this amount, but I don't know enough about French or Portuguese tax law to know whether they tax prize income in the same way the US does.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:45 AM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Don't rely on this for legal purposes, but I am reasonably sure that gambling prizes are not taxed (either as income or otherwise) in France (see e.g. this summary from practicallaw -- taxes are levied on the bets rather than on the prizes). (Of course, depending on how & where the competition was run, it may not qualify for this.)
posted by richb at 6:15 AM on December 19, 2018

Did you actually win anything here?

Sounds like you're thinking of immigration or visa issues for the new owner of the house. Those are important, but consider just the normal liabilities involved in owning a property.

Other legal concerns here may be unpaid property taxes. Issues around zoning and building permits. You may be required to keep the place up, especially if it's old or has a historic designation. Issues around anything toxic that is stored or has been stored on the property. Issues pertaining to water and drainage onto neighboring properties. Issues around any private road or driveway and how they connect to municipal roads. Remediation of lead, asbestos, or other dangerous materials used in older construction, should you do any renovations on the property. Previous leins, or legal judgements against the property or its owners.

Getting insurance on a property that may be unoccupied much of the time isn't fun, cheap or easy. People living in a place day to day tend to notice and address problems like water leaks and electrical issues pretty quick. Not so if the house is unoccupied. So insurance can be more expensive.

Also, estate issues can be pretty difficult around foreign owned property. Often it requires a will valid in the foreign country with the associated costs of getting that done, and then travel by an executor to that place and a lawyer there to move the process forward.

Remember that for a time anyway, there were all these houses you could buy in Detroit for like $1, and people still didn't buy them because of the legal and upkeep costs around them.

And then all of the above has to be dealt with in a foreign language in a system you may not know. Good luck negotiating with contractors and suppliers in a language you don't know!

If I won a piece of property in a foreign country, it would have to be worth a lot of money for me to actually accept it. Your use of the word "depopulated" above makes me think that resale on this place may not be much.

There's a channel 4 show called Escape to the Chateau where a couple from England buys and attempts to rehabilitate a rural french chateau. It's a lot of fun to watch, but goodness, it's a full time job taking on a property like that. And they didn't have the immigration issues you are also concerned about.
posted by thenormshow at 9:00 AM on December 19, 2018

I would employ a local lawyer to help me navigate the legal issues (regarding property ownership as well as residence problems), I'd also talk to a US accountant about tax liabilities.

If living in the area wasn't in the cards for me and I didn't want to engage in international property management/investment, I'd probably sell the thing more or less immediately (with the help of a local lawyer).
posted by el io at 11:19 PM on December 21, 2018

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