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Hopes are raised that controversial land licence rule will be scrapped

Realtors say a land licence policy deemed discriminatory against Bermudians married to non-Bermudians could be axed after their credit crunch talks with Government.

They recommended scrapping the rule requiring homeowners with non-Bermudian spouses to get licences for their property as they believe it has badly affected the real estate market.

It came after Government approached the real estate industry and businesses for thoughts on how to stimulate the economy by changing immigration policy.

National Security Minister David Burch stated a review of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act is underway earlier this week.

Rego Sotheby's International Realty president Buddy Rego yesterday described the land licences policy as “archaic” and said it needs to go.

“It doesn't really serve Bermudians, because of the obvious prejudice against Bermudians married to non-Bermudians,” he said.

“It certainly does not serve the real estate industry. It has, without a shadow of doubt, adversely affected turnover in the real estate market.”

Mr Rego said he had been part of a “unified real estate industry effort” which has made suggestions to Government for “certain amendments to current real estate policy”.

“To the Government's credit, they actually reached out and asked if we had ideas to what we might suggest that might kick-start things,” he said.

“I'm hopeful that Senator Burch's announcement is the result of some of those suggestions.”

The land licences rule, introduced as an amendment to the Act in 2007, means many married and cohabiting couples, where one partner is an expatriate, need a $1,375 licence, as well as homeowning Bermudians with a foreign parent who has put money into the property.

It is designed to prevent fronting, the practice of non-Bermudians gaining an unlawful interest in land by using a local as a front.

But Mr Rego said it had caused many difficulties in the real estate industry and for Bermuda's economy as a whole.

“Owners, sellers and developers have prejudiced against those people who have to wait a number of months for licences compared with those people who don't have to wait,” he said.

“In many instances, because of land licensing policy, it's affected people's ability to pay mortgages: all the things that go hand in hand with a free market economy.

“There's less turnover, less legal work, less stamp duty and less income for Government.

“So any sort of revision has got to be good for Bermudian individuals and the general economic community.”

He said fronting could instead be dealt with in the legal fraternity.

“There are other gatekeeping methods of ensuring fronting doesn't happen that don't involve penalising Bermudians married to non-Bermudians. This is using a sledgehammer to kill a fly,” he said.

Mr Rego said realtors had also recommended getting rid of the policy stopping Bermudians selling properties to non-Bermudians.

On the chances of their ideas being accepted, he said: “They have said ‘we are taking it under consideration' but no definitive ‘we will let you know next week'.”

Bermuda Employers' Council director Martin Law said yesterday: “We see a review in a positive light.

“The BEC, along with other business organisations, has made submissions to Government on how immigration laws and policies might be changed to stimulate the economy and protect employment.

“We understand that these suggestions are under active consideration. Our current economic climate and outlook demands that we look at things differently than we might have done a few short years ago.

“We clearly need to foster a welcoming posture to all our foreign guests, whether they are tourists or businesses, and a realistic look at immigration laws and policies is a good place to start.”

Mr Law would not say which policy changes his group had recommended.

The United Bermuda Party has said it's hopeful the immigration review will also signal the end of the controversial work permit term limit policy which has angered the business community.

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Published March 25, 2011 at 10:01 am (Updated March 25, 2011 at 10:00 am)

Hopes are raised that controversial land licence rule will be scrapped

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