Expat LifeTravel

Kampot Chronicles 3: A Potential Glitch

As with so many things in life, stuff happens – untoward stuff that may, or may not, now or in the future, cause grief. In this case displaying quite succinctly the vulnerability of having property you own in someone else’s name.

If you are married to a Khmer citizen, that’s easy, though marriages have been known to fail, so might as well accept the possibility that the property will turn into gift to the ex.

There are plenty of trustworthy Khmer business partners one could choose to affix their thumbprint, though one fellow I talked to recently, who has substantial investments in Phnom Penh, said he told his designee he’d be offed if he didn’t keep his part of the agreement.

I recently had a conversation with a guy in Kampot who owns 49% of his place, the remainder owned by the law firm that set up the transaction. He says he has power of attorney over the 51% so has complete control. For those services he paid $5000.

I chose a Khmer girl I originally met in a bar (she’s not the take-home type) who I trust 100%. I know there are those of you out there who will scoff at the idea of trusting any bar girl, but having spent an average of 30 hours a week floating around the bar scene over the last 5 years, I’ve got a pretty good idea of who can be relied upon. In fact there were several I could’ve chosen for my purpose, but this one seemed flexible enough to be able to make the necessary journeys to Kampot, and certainly as honest and true as any of the others.

I still trust her completely, except- she’s become somewhat incapacitated. Though she personally did nothing wrong, she was responsible for a situation in which I incurred a substantial loss. She became distraught over her part in harming me as well as depressed over what the event meant for her life and completely lost it. She had a deeply traumatic experience about a year ago which took her months to recover from. This latest setback took her over the deep end: she tried to OD twice in quick succession. She’s become a whimpering mess of near incoherency; locked in by her family for her own protection.

Who could’ve imagined such a development? Yet it poses several potential problems and has engendered some wholesale rethinking.

As owner of the property she needs to be available at times. For instance, when I learned that the property adjacent to mine was available I scouted out a friend to purchase it. (Not that I was all that concerned about having the locals in their ramshackle straw house as neighbors – well, having no toilet of their own they tended to shit around my place, but I’ll be building a fence, so that wouldn’t have been a problem.) However, in order for my friend to get his title, she had to come down to Kampot and sign off on it. At this point that would be impossible. Her signature may not be needed again for years, but what if?

She may be perfectly ok in a few months; then again, she may not. If a legal owner had to be present, there would have to be a grant of power of attorney, which would have to come from sole legal authority declaring her unfit. How long would it take? What kind of process does Cambodia have for that? How much would it cost? How much hassle would I have to go through to make it happen?

If she did manage to snuff out her life the lease would go to her heir, or heirs. Probably her mother, yet none of that could happen without legal shenanigans. In other words, her heir could not just start signing for her. There’s certainly no will: even in Cambodia there must be some legal documentation involved in transferring assets. (In America absence of a will would require an expensive probate court process.) Since her family probably doesn’t have the money for legal fees, should I need a legal signer, I’d probably have to pay for it. She was very easy to deal with when I needed her presence. Her heir? Maybe not all that bad but probably not the same.

She would never purposely cause me harm, but what about her heir? With a free $100 per year and the potential to earn a great deal more if I decide to sell, it seems unlikely that he or she would want to be uncooperative. Still, who knows? The lease carries the force of law, but if someone wanted to be difficult, that is, try to undermine it, they could just say, ‘So sue me’, which could then get very expensive and messy, and, considering the state of the Cambodian justice system, ultimately a crap shoot.

While it’s important to consider all the potential disaster scenarios, it’s most likely that everything will turn out just fine – probably in the 99% range. Still, an element of uncertainty has entered into the equation. Do I want to put a bunch of money into building a house when I feel so unsure about this matter? Just transferring the lease to someone more dependable would cost a bundle.In fact, it’s not even been two weeks but she’s already back to work, seemingly having made a miraculous recovery. Now I hear this is not the first time this has happened. In any case, the questions have been raised and the vulnerability exposed.

At one point I thought I might build something small, partly to get the hang of the construction thing, before I made a big commitment. It would then serve as a guest house after I built a larger house. If I ran out of dough I’d be able to rent it out, even open a legit guest house. Maybe I’ll just sit on the property for a while to see if things work themselves out. Build a fence and driveway and dig a well but otherwise bide my time. At least in the near term it can only go up in value.

I’m really in no hurry; even thinking about the hassle of building and setting everything up can bring on minor fits of fatigue. On the other hand, it’s still exciting thinking about filling my 3000 square meters with splendid gardens and vegging out in peace and tranquillity – not to mention creating a superior bachelor pad. Everyone who’s seen the place has been impressed; it’s really a sweet little piece of Cambodia.

I’ll be going back to the States again this summer for nearly two months. I’ve been doing it every year for the past six, but may not have to do it again for a few years. If I do build and furnish a house I won’t be able to leave for that long without a caretaker or friend to live there. Maybe I should just wait till next fall to start building. On the other hand, I’m probably just overreacting. I seldom let small setbacks determine my course of action, so why am I making such a fuss?

I’ll keep you posted.

Stan Kahn

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