The Property Register, which is managed by the Bulgarian Registry Agency, charges BGN 1 for online reports that do not contain any data. Customers pay this fee for, both, entries that contain property data and blank entries for which a blank page is displayed. This blank report system harms users and the Agency admits that these users have been misled. It is currently considering different ways to refund their money.

Since the “sting” involves a small amount and is relatively uncommon, probably a number of users have not been particularly outraged for having paid for something that they should not be charged for. But for the frequent users of the Property Register – lawyers, real estate brokers and even investigative journalists like us, the amount can swell to BGN hundreds.

The Property Register has 112 local offices across the country that record “deeds recognizing, transferring, modifying or terminating the right of ownership or other property right over real estate,” as described on the site of the Register. Foreclosures and mortgages on properties are also recorded.

In order not to travel across the country, when it is necessary to check a person or property, the service “Reports via Remote Access via the Internet” is offered. Although the information is centralized into a common database, this online service is paid individually for each local office. So, if someone is interested in a person with real estate in the capital Sofia, the winter resort of Bansko and the summer resort of Sunny Beach, they have to pay BGN 1 for each of the three separate reports to see all properties listed under this person’s name.

If a person has never owned a property or never had a property right in the territorial scope of an office, it is logical that the search will not show any results and therefore the user should not to pay for it. However, this is not always the case. The Register is full with the so-called “blank” entries in which there is no data on any properties, but the entry itself exists and there is a charge to access it.

Let’s say that the entity X (physical or legal) has never owned a property in the town of Knezha (the choice of this office is a random one – editor’s note), but they need a statement of their property status (a certificate) from this office. The remote access check does not work because our country’s “large-scale e-administration” still requires a hard copy with a stamp. Then there is no other way, but for X to travel to Knezha or seek the services of an authorized local attorney.

The office in Knezha will issue against a fee a statement to X that they have no properties. But at the same time, the system will silently make an electronic entry of X, which is blank, and nothing is written in it. And this is not only in Knezha, but in all 112 offices throughout the country.

From the moment X is entered into the online system of a local office, their name appears in the Property Register’s search engine. The search results for X display information with the full name, social security number and the name of the local office.

At the search stage, it is not known what is the information behind the X entry. Anyone who wants to know more will have to pay BGN 1 to see… a blank page with the name of the entity and the date of the report that does not bear any information whatsoever.

The screenshots below show the system’s results for a search for our reporter Dimitar Stoyanov before and after he visited the office in the city of Pazardzhik in order to obtain a property certificate and thus, acquire such a blank entry.

To make sure that this is not a bug in the system, other Bivol associates repeated the experiment in the cities of Pernik and Sofia with the same result.

The Registry Agency: We have deceived users, but we will deal with the problem

Property Register employees confirmed the observations of Bivol. “A personal account in the Integrated Information Systems for Cadaster and Property Register (IISCPR) is also created in cases where a person is provided with services by the Property Register, such as the issuance of a property certificate, issuance of a copy, or a report,” they explained.

However, according to the Agency, this “blank” report still provided information that “no entries, notes or deletions have been made in a certain period”.

Still, the information in question is also available without a blank entry, access to which is charged a fee. If there is no data in the system, it is logical that nothing has been done with the entry of the entity.

“It is dully noted that such a report is misleading for users,” repents the Agency and promises to remedy the problem through its project “Upgrading the Property Register for Integration with the Cadastral Register and Provision of Additional E-services”. The problem with the blank entries had been tabled for discussion and resolution within the project, its representatives said.

When asked what happens to users who have already been misled or have paid for blank records and whether they will be reimbursed, the employees who deal with the maintenance of the Property Register say that they can use the user number to generate a list with the blank entries the user has accessed and justify a request for repayment, probably in the form of credits in the account with the Registry Agency.

Until the editorial closure of the article, no response was received from the Registry Agency’s press office to the question whether this gesture would be applied systematically to all users who have paid over the years for the blank entries.

Bivol also asked questions under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) to find out the exact number of the misled users over the years and the amounts the Agency has collected to display the blank entries.

 

 

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