New Laws Restrict Land Ownership to Maximum 10,000 Hectares

Deplar farm - Fljótin - Skagafjörður - hótel

A single landowner in Iceland, or affiliated parties, will not be permitted to own over 10,000 hectares (100km sq) of land according to new legislation just passed by Alþingi, RÚV reports. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a registry providing information on landowners at no cost. The legislation is the result of calls for stricter legislation on land ownership, particularly governing landowners based outside of Iceland. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says she is prepared for the legislation to be challenged in court.

The Act on Property Ownership and Real Estate Utilisation was passed in Iceland’s parliament last week. It includes a provision for establishing a landowner registry where information on landowners can be obtained free of charge. “An overview of who owns our land will thus be created for both the government and the public in the country, and I consider that an important step in and of itself,” stated Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Another provision asserts that a title deed will not be notarised unless the purchase price of the asset is stated.

Billionaire Landowner Opposes Limits

The most controversial change within the legislation is that it authorises the Minister of Agriculture to impose restrictions on land purchases. If a landowner, or two or more affiliated parties, already own land totalling 10,000 hectares, they cannot acquire more unless they are granted a special exemption from the Minister. “And then there has to be a very, very strong argument for such a landmass to be in the hands of one party. That is about 0.4% of Iceland’s lowland, to give an example.”

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One organisation that has criticised the provision is Strengur, a fishing association majority-owned by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe owns well over 10,000 hectares of land in Iceland, many of which he has purchased with the purported aim of protecting Iceland’s wild salmon stocks. The legislation would prevent Ratcliffe from purchasing additional property. (It is not, however, retroactive so he would be able to maintain ownership of his current assets.) Strengur representatives have argued that the provision violates the EEA Agreement, the Icelandic constitution, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Strengur has not yet made a decision on whether it will challenge the legislation in court. Katrín states that she believes the act conforms to the EEA Agreement.