Often people who have bought houses or long-leased them many months or years ago come in to see us, bringing the relevant documents. One of the things they often bring with them is an elaborate long-lease document, all in English, signed by the parties.
Here's the problem: Although the documents may be in another language besides Thai or a combination of Thai and another language _ for example, alternating paragraphs _ land offices will only accept documents that are 100% in Thai.
Therefore, if we see a document with English or any other script, we know it can't have been registered at the land office and we then have to explain this to the person visiting us.
So, what happens if you've executed a 30-year lease in English and it wasn't registered at the land office? As explained in an earlier column, according to the regulations, if a lease is not registered at the land office, it is only enforceable for three years. And if there is no long-lease document registered on a property the landlord can sell it to someone else or mortgage it. If this happens, the hapless person who didn't get the lease registered can legally be thrown out by a new buyer or a creditor of the landlord.
If you find the long lease you've signed hasn't been registered at the land office, there is one possibility of avoiding this kind of trouble. There may have been some other document, in Thai, registered at the land office. It's a one-page lease on a land office form. It may be for 30 years, but the problem with this form is that it doesn't contain the protections that are necessary in a lease.
For example, in any lease we register with the land office, we always include a provision that if the tenant dies, the rights under the lease pass to the tenant's heirs. The reason for this is that under Thai law, if nothing about this is said in the lease, and if the tenant dies, the lease is terminated and the property reverts to the landlord.
Here's an example of what could happen. Let's say you leased land and built a house on it, paying the developer for everything. The only registration document you have is one of these short-form leases.
A year later you die. In this case, everything would go right to the landlord, not to your heirs.
The short form lease lacks many other protections as well.
So, what should you do if you find you don't have a proper lease registered at the land office, or no lease at all? One thing you should do immediately is find out if your landlord has sold or mortgaged the property.
If he or she hasn't done this, you or your representative should approach the landlord and ask him or her to execute a complete lease.
Very often at the sales stage, the land office fees on filing a long lease are split between the landlord and tenant. At a later stage, such as in this example, where you've already paid everything to the landlord, you will probably have to offer to pay all of the land office fees yourself. But it's worth it to get the protection.
If the landlord agrees, a long-lease document can be filed at the land office. This new lease can contain all the protections you need and cover the entire period as originally purchased from the landlord. At the same time, you should have an accurate translation made of the filed document so that you know exactly what's in it.
James Finch of Chavalit Finch and Partners (firstname.lastname@example.org)
and Nilobon Tangprasit of Siam City Law Offices Ltd (email@example.com).
Researchers: Arnon Rungthanakarn and Sitra Horsinchai.
For more information visit www.chavalitfinchlaw.com.
Questions? Contact us at the email addresses above.
About the author
Writer: James Finch & Nilobon Tangprasit