The issue of land development in Bali

Buying land and building a house or a business is a dream for many people in Bali especially outsiders. The reality is that owning land and living a stress free life is harder than you think and the process is filled with pitfalls.

One of the problems westerners have is they cannot legally own land in Bali and have to put the land in the name of a local, which has its own risks. I have talked to many people who own apartments and guest houses about how they handle the situation. Here in Bali the expat scene is a bit like southern California where you get people from all over world moving to a desirable place to start a new life and do not want to leave, often being prepared to do things they would not do at home in order to stay. Telling lies is part of the deal and I find that if I ask the same person the same question one week apart I often get a different answer. One week they own land, next week they lease land, one week they own a guesthouse, next week someone else owns it and they are the manager.

The British Consul told me there are examples galore of people trying to buy land in East Bali and getting taken for a ride, largely because there is no official record of land and its the Brooklyn Bridge scenario of someone selling you land and a while later the real owner wanting it back.

That does not mean it is impossible but that you have to exercise caution when slapping down hard cash. An older Balinese gentleman once told me the way it goes. A farmer sells land to a westerner, builds himself a house on his remaining land, buys and car, a couple of motorbikes and after 5 years the money is gone. Okay he thinks, now I want my land back. As a westerner who are you going to go to? You hold a piece of paper that has no record and the police are all local.

I know an American guy who owns a couple of blocks of apartments. He has a 20 year lease and after that is up he will lose the apartments. Maybe he does not care and if he manages to rent them out continuously will get back much more than he put in, allowing him to live in Bali and make a profit.

A recent article points to another side of the coin. Balinese are quick to offer land for sale, with little thought given to how it will be developed. I think this shortsightedness is an extension of their business style, the quick buck rather than a long term approach, which in turn is the result of a lack of education and training. Basically the island is steadily being developed and the locals are being left out of the picture.

Much of this development is from Java. A lot of the small guest house and shops are western. There is a lot of Balinese development around the island in terms of houses, small shops and those butt ugly concrete walls they love to erect. This development is outside of the tourist industry but is no doubt the result of trickle down economics from tourism.

I would personally like to see everyone act in a more responsible way and think about the future of the island. The government should make education a priority. A person can only evaluate their situation accurately if they have they tools to do so. The local government should implement strict zoning laws on new construction and perhaps make leasing the only way for outsiders to use land. The locals should realize what the have and why foreigners come to Bali. Destroying the island with reckless development will destroy their livelihood eventually when tourists do not see Bali as a paradise anymore. Foreigners starting a new business in Bali should realize their crafty ways rub off on each other and in order for people to live the kind of life they come here for schiesters need to be put in their place.

The rest of us are better of enjoying Bali for what we know it to be, a different environment with friendly people, unique culture and a place like no other.