Own your own mobile home on the lake. How to do it?

Coronavirus pandemic has caused that more and more willingly looking for a break from the urban everyday life we rely on resting in the bosom of nature, away from the crowds and noise. A dream scenario for many Poles is to buy a plot of land by the lake and put a small mobile home or a caravan on it. We suggest how to do it properly and avoid fines amounting to 50 thousand zlotys and forced demolition.

In an interview with Interia, real estate expert and author of the blog “Grunt to Masuria”, Kamila Kamala talks about the specifics of the Warmia and Masuria market, the right approach to choosing the plot of our dreams and the formalities that we need to take care of when deciding on our own mobile home by the lake “Land is Masuria” Kamil Berger.

Dariusz Jaroñ, Interia: How did the pandemic affect the land market in Masuria?

Kamil Berger: – Demand for land in Warmia and Mazury has always been there, however since the beginning of the pandemic we have observed an acceleration of the pace of purchase decisions. Previously, people who came to me with a decision to buy a plot of land took up to a month and a half from the first meeting. Now this process can take as little as 3-4 days. The pandemic has undoubtedly reinforced the need to own a piece of land, and if we add to this the surroundings of lakes, forests, peace and quiet, we get what people in Poland need at this moment. We can buy land in many beautiful parts of the country, Warmia and Mazury have the advantage that they offer not only beautiful views – as in the case of plots in the mountains or by the sea, but also access to their own piece of coastline.

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Has the change in demand been followed by a sharp rise in prices?

– Yes, but in some places. There is such a thing as lakeiness. It is a parameter that determines the surface area of lakes in a given country. In Poland, it is 0.96 percent, or just under one percent of our territory is occupied by lakes. Most of the shoreline areas are marshy or difficult to access. So if we want to find a plot of land with access to a lake and affordable access, we are already within the radius of this one percent. Let’s go one step further and imagine a plot with access to a lake and with a possibility of development – this is already a per mille. The prices of the most attractive plots, for which demand has increased, have also increased rapidly. I would also like to add that the offer prices of some plots of land can significantly exceed their market value, and this is usually due to the owners’ greed. Therefore, in order to be sure about the price, it is worth consulting a specialist and making an estimate before the purchase.

Let’s assume that we bought a land. The next natural step is the need to put a small house on it. How to do it with a head, so as not to break the law and not to expose yourself to severe penalties?

– We must remember that the law changes constantly. In addition, the region of Warmia and Mazury in recent years has become an arena of special protection of the landscape, but also the whole fauna and flora. As a consequence, there are far fewer places where you can build. Meanwhile, if we look at the shoreline of the lakes, very often we can see piers, cut reeds and Dutch or mobile homes standing along the shoreline. This may have been much simpler a dozen years ago, whereas today – due to changes in nature conservation – you have to adapt to the current law. One of the reasons why it is still common to see trailer homes near lakes is the desire to bypass the provisions of the Nature Conservation Act of April 16, 2004, which states, among other things, that erecting new buildings closer than one hundred meters from the shoreline of lakes, rivers and other inland bodies of water is prohibited.

Someone will say that a trailer is not a house.

– This is generally the explanation given: Since a caravan (allegedly) is not a house, it does not fall under the construction law, so I can put it even a few meters from the shoreline. Nothing could be further from the truth. A caravan, mobile home or bungalow, contrary to the assurances of many developers and land sellers, cannot be erected on such a plot without complying with the relevant procedures. If, for example, a Dutch hut is erected on the land, it is considered a building object and must be reported to the county office as a building of individual recreation twenty-one days before the commencement of construction works, if its area is not larger than 35 square meters, or – if the hut is larger – apply for a building permit after the preparation of a construction project. No matter what, in the vast majority of cases, it is impossible for such an object to stand closer than a hundred meters from the shoreline.

If someone tries to tell us that mobile homes on the lake do not require any formalities, a red light should go on?

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– I will only refer to the Warmian-Masurian market, where this distance of one hundred meters from the shoreline is strictly protected. If we have an attractive plot of land and an affordable offer, but we know, after taking measurements, that we will not keep the prescribed distance from the lake allowing development, we will not be able to put a house on such land for 99 percent, nor will we be able to live there legally in a caravan. Remember that most lakes are covered by a protection zone, so the red light should go on in such situations. Each time it is worth to make sure, what we can do on the plot, but with a large dose of probability we can assume, that we will not make any investments on such area.

What if we buy a plot with a mobile home already built?

– It may happen. In such a situation, at the outset we should ask the current owner to prepare documentation that made it possible to erect the house.

I understand that a good lawyer for the transaction is essential?

– Of course. It is one thing to build a house near Warsaw, Poznan or another large Polish city and quite another to do it in a landscape protection zone – near lakes, breeding sites or other areas under strict protection as nature and landscape complexes, landscape parks or within the Natura 2000 programme. It is much more difficult to obtain permits than when building a house near the city. It’s important to remember that the goal of the municipalities and the regional environmental protection directorate is to take care of nature, and not to make lakes available to private individuals, who – consciously or not – would only expose the fauna and flora to great losses. This is mainly what the Nature Conservation Act of 2004 was created for.

What are the penalties for attempting to circumvent the law or lack of knowledge?

– Ignorance of the law harms. For unauthorized construction we can receive a financial penalty of up to 50 thousand zlotys. A few days ago, a gentleman wrote to me asking what he should do, because this is the penalty he received. Unfortunately, the law in such cases is not likely to work retroactively, so it was worth taking care of all the formalities beforehand. Apart from the fine, there is also an obligation to demolish the illegally built house. If you happen to have built such a house and have doubts about its legality, it is worth checking. Sure, if there hasn’t been any inspection for so long, you can think that you are lucky, but luck can run out one day and this inspection will appear.

What if we want to be honest and report the construction after the fact?

– You have to reckon with the fact that penalties can be severe, so it’s best to check what can be built on the plot before buying it. Even if there are no building conditions yet, let’s ask in the municipality, confront our dreams with legal reality. Most real estate lawyers are able to make at least a preliminary assessment of this without completing, for example, an environmental report, which in itself is quite expensive.

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Why is it actually punishable to put up a caravan or a mobile home? Someone will say they can move it if there is a problem.

– It is the purpose of the use of the object that decides. For example, a Dutch caravan is not an object that – put on a plot of land – is used for moving. It doesn’t have a VIN number, and it doesn’t fall under road traffic law, only construction law. Dutch house is standing, we connect it to water, electricity, connect the septic tank. It is intended to live – temporarily or permanently – so from a legal perspective, the function of the mobile home or trailer is important.

– I am also approached by clients who want to build resorts with Dutch or mobile homes. Key to such plans is the August 27, 2014 ruling of the Provincial Administrative Court in Gdansk. The court ruled that due to the nature of the use of trailers as holiday homes for rent, it treats these structures as building structures, not trailers, and applies construction law to them. This ruling is very important if you are thinking about buying land and putting up some Dutch (or mobile) homes and treating them as trailers. According to the court’s interpretation, this cannot be done without a construction notification or obtaining a building permit.

To sum up: we look at plots of land, consult the selected ones with a lawyer, and in the municipality office ask what can be built on this particular land?

– Yes. It is worth adding that plots of land are divided into those covered by the local zoning plan and those not covered by the plan. In the first case it is trivial to check what can and cannot be built on the land. These are publicly available documents and can be obtained online. They contain information on how close to the lake we can build, how big the building can be, how many floors it can have, etc. However, this document does not release us from the obligation to report the house or obtain a building permit. The zoning plan is only a guideline which should be followed while executing the project and then, with the ready study, go to the municipality and apply for the construction permit.

What about plots of land outside the zoning plan?

– Most of the land with access to the lake is agricultural land, which is not included in the local zoning plan. Therefore, the first step towards development is to obtain the zoning conditions, and only then do we apply for a building permit or notify such intention. More and more often consents are given for construction of houses up to 35 square meters without obtaining the development conditions, however the jurisprudence in this matter is relatively new and the regulations are not precise, therefore it is worth to go to the commune office for an opinion each time. The procedure for land not included in the plan may be longer and certainly not zero-one. It is necessary to consult an expert, make an analysis and assess whether the risk of purchasing a plot without established development conditions is acceptable for us. It does happen, because such property can usually be purchased much cheaper, and in addition it is located in very charming locations.

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