Friday, November 12, 2010
E-Mail From ABROAD
Kosovo, as Seen by San Fernando Valley Attorney Tamila Jensen
I am in Pristina, Kosovo teaching a class in real estate law at the European School of Law and Governance—and loving every minute of it. This is a private school and the class is all young adults—rather than very young college kids—and they are interested and alert and ask lots of questions. I lecture in English and then the other prof. translates to Albanian, which definitely slows things down a lot because the translation can’t be simultaneous. But we are getting there.
Of course, I am learning about the Kosovo legal system and real property as we go along. Not a thorough study, of course, but we discuss the important differences as particular issues arise. You can see how the U.S. system is really designed to encourage lots of trade. Here, loans are so hard to get and interest rates so high that most sales of real property (at least among regular people) are in cash! There are no or few buyer protections—what you buy is what you get and no coming back and complaining. The Serbs took the property records when they left and won’t give them back, so that is an added complication. When the Serb property owners left, squatters moved in, so there are disputes over who owns what and an agency set up just to resolve them. They have a lot of co-ownership, but the buildings (at least the old ones) are not condo’s as we know them because the owner of an individual unit cannot do much by him- or herself - all the owners have to act together. Of course, at least in town, they follow the old European model and there are shops on the street level and apartments above. A little shop for everything. I did finally find a large market—underground. Then I realized that a basement was the only space large enough for such a store because the ground level is all little shops.
The class is mostly people who are already landlords or own property or want to get into the real estate market here. Two of them are even landlord-tenant to each other. When I explained a ground lease, the property owner very much liked the idea! He also liked the idea of fixtures. This created a discussion between them in class since they had not thought before that the personal property could become part of the real property, but then I explained trade fixtures and burst the bubble.
This is a civil law (not common law) system. Legal education here is on the European model. Law school is an undergraduate study and a person must intern before he or she can take the bar. The recent war and what led up to it has left the economy in some disarray so there are not enough jobs for the young people. The government has opened up the law schools to pretty much anyone who wants to go, with the result that the classes are huge and there are neither enough teachers nor class rooms. This has helped postpone the problem but it will be back in four years and it is unlikely there will be enough internships for all these people. It is also difficult to see how the legal education could be very good under these conditions.
Land use controls exist here but seem to be regularly ignored. There is a problem of unauthorized building and the destruction of buildings of historical interest that could attract some tourist attention. Much was lost during the Tito years as well when old buildings were destroyed to make way for soviet style buildings. There is now an effort underway to bring buildings into conformance with the law, so it will be interesting to see how successful this is. Just to give you a flavor for the place, I bought a street map to help be find my way around, then discovered that they do not bother with street signs. Forget the idea of a north-south grid. Streets go where they went hundreds of years ago.
Pristina is a lively town and the center of government. My apartment is right in the center of town. Lots of embassies, the UN, etc. The population is 70% under age 40—so you can imagine there is a club or café every 10 feet. They have some interesting ideas about architecture and the city is a mixture of old and new. Everyone I have met has been charming and very nice. The first Saturday I was here, I went to an Albanian wedding and danced for five hours—a real treat. They still get married the old-fashioned way - the groom’s party goes to the bride’s home and asks if he can marry her. If her father says “yes,” they are married and the party starts. They can go any time and register with the officials as married. Apparently, some people never do this and then may have a problem if they want the state to intervene in a divorce, etc.
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