Langeland wants to let foreigners buy holiday homes

Mayor of Langeland thinks selling empty homes to foreigners to use as summer houses could combat economic depression

An indicator of the economic strife afflicting the provincial isle of Langland is the almost 400 homes which are for sale. That’s one in twelve of all homes on the island, which is double the national average.

But itÂ’s not that the homes arenÂ’t sought after. ItÂ’s well established that Germans would happily buy a piece of land on the Danish isles – in close proximity to the clear ocean and white sandy beaches – except theyÂ’re prevented from doing so due to decades-old protectionist laws.

ThatÂ’s why LangelandÂ’s mayor, Bjarne Nielsen, is attempting to have the island exempted from the laws in order to increase occupancy and stimulate the local economy.

“A price of €50,000 is not that much for Germans when there’s plumbing, district heating and the coast nearby,” Nielsen told Politiken newspaper. “They want to drive up here a few times a year – four friends with their fishing tackle in a VW transporter. And then maybe they might bring their wives and children out in the summer. It’s preferable to have their own base instead of having to rent a new place each time. And the few things that need fixing up will be done using local labourers, which in turn will improve the local economy.”

Nielsen is off to a bad start, however, after the Justice Ministry last week rejected his attempt to have the island exempted from the 1959 law which prevents the sale of Danish property to foreigners.

The law, which Denmark was allowed to keep when they joined the EU in 1972 and amended in 1995, means that EU citizens have to be resident in Denmark for five years before they can buy property to live in year round.

Summer houses, which can only be lived in for part of the year, can still only be bought by Danish citizens.

NielsenÂ’s proposal has the support of some experts who believe that selling the empty homes to foreigners to use as holiday homes – which might only be occupied at weekends and holidays – is preferable to having them sit empty all year round.

“Allowing foreigners to buy homes would be the most effective measure to get the housing market moving in peripheral areas such as Langeland and at the same time stimulate the local economy,” Niels Christian Nielsen from the Danish Center for Rural Research at Syddansk Universitet told Politiken.

Foreigners are also considered the only people in the position to buy many of the homes valued under 500,000 kroner, the minimum amount Danish mortgage providers will lend.

But while foreigners might be the answer to Langeland’s prayers, many are still fearful that Danes would become priced out of their own market if the rules were relaxed across the whole country.

“I can understand if particular councils allow foreigners to buy empty houses,” Carsten Abild, chairman of national association Landsbyerne I Danmark, told Berlingske. “But if we abolish the rule across the country I’m afraid that attractive natural areas and summerhouse areas will all be bought by wealthy foreigners within two weeks.”

After being rebuffed by the Justice Ministry, LangelandÂ’s mayor is trying another avenue and meeting with Carsten Hansen, the minister for housing, urban and rural affairs, today to discuss allowing foreigners to only buy homes that have been on the market for more than a year.

NielsenÂ’s chances are slim, however, with Hansen having already expressed doubt about the plan.

“Foreign experience shows that many areas die if you sell them to people who donÂ’t live there. In the long term you also lose tax income and that doesnÂ’t support our institutions and schools in those regions,” Hansen told national broadcaster DR. “It would be like peeing in your pants, in that it would have a nice initial feeling but it would end up having bad long term consequences through lost income and life in villages.”

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