How to find out who owns a specific plot of land in Germany
Every week we get a number of enquiries regarding German property and how to obtain Land Registry information. Mostly from creditors who “have heard” that their debtor owns property in Germany. Or from a spouse entangled in divorce proceedings who fears that the other spouse is hiding property located somewhere in Germany. Or, of course, enquiries in connection with international succession and probate matters.
Often we are asked how to undertake “a quick research” within the German Land Registry as to what property a certain person holds in his or her name. Or we are asked to obtain an extract from the German Land Registry with regard to a specific property address.
The German view: That’s none of your business!
Well, in Germany things are not quite that easy. The tradition in this country is to be quite secretive about property, its purchase price and its history of ownership. This is also the reason why websites like www.rightmove.co.uk or www.myhouseprice.co.uk are virtually non-existent in Germany. No German house buyer or seller will voluntarily disclose the purchase price paid or received for a property. The German philosophy here is: Das ist Privatsache! Meaning: That’s my private business!
For the same reason, information from the German Land Registry is not so easy to obtain. According to Section 12 German Land Registry Act (Grundbuchordnung): “Inspection of the land register shall be granted to such persons who can establish a legitimate interest.” Thus an application to inspect the land register must be accompanied by a letter explaining why this is necessary. Such an application can be addressed to either the respective District Court where the regional land register (Grundbuchamt) is kept or to a German notary, which is probably the quicker and more convenient way. Notaries, however, are also obligated to check whether the enquirer has a legitimate personal interest to receive this information (see Section 133a para. 1 German Land Registry Act / Grundbuchordnung). Having a legal claim against the property owner does, of course, constitute legitimate interest. This simply needs to be presented to the land registry or the notary in the necessary form to obtain the information as quickly as possible.
Official property information including mortgage data is kept (like the commercial register) by the 810 German District Courts (Amtsgerichte), i.e. Germany uses a decentralised approach. In contrast to the Commercial Register (with its online gateway www.unternehmensregister.de) the land registers do not offer a central database website, although the land register is nowadays kept in electronic form. Instead, the enquirer must contact the respective District Court where the property in question is located. Even notaries can only access the electronic land register data within their state.
This is what an extract from the German land register looks like (scroll down). As with the Commercial Register, red underlining does not mean “very important” but does instead mean “outdated / no longer valid”.
More information on buying property in Germany, the German Land Registry and conveyancing process and the rights and duties of tenants and landlords in Germany is available in these posts:
- Legal guide to buying a house or apartment in Germany
- Tenants beware of Waiver Clauses in German Property Lease Agreements
- Buying German Property as Brexit Counter-Strategy
- Template of German Land Sale & Purchase Agreement
- Is “Miteigentum” in a German Property the same as “Tenancy in Common”?
- Apartment Prices in Germany: How to get a quick Overview
- Searching for Property Information in the German Land Registry
Or simply click on the sections “Property” or “Conveyancing in Germany” in the right column of this blog.
The law firm Graf & Partners has been assisting businesses, private clients and international law firms since 2003. We advise and represent foreign clients who wish to purchase, sell or lease property in Germany. Do not hesitate to contact German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) on +49 941 463 7070 or send an email to: mail [-at-] grafpartner.com.