Pending legislation in South Carolina may affect your transactions
Remember the Chinese surveillance balloon the United States shot down off the coast of the Palmetto State in February? That incident and other rising tensions between our government and China over several issues (the war in Ukraine, recognition of Taiwan, to name only two) have resulted in politicians proposing to broaden state law bans on foreign ownership of real estate.
According to a New York Times article dated February 7, entitled “How U.S-China Tensions Could Affect Who Buys the House Next Door”, legislation in Texas was proposed after a Chinese billionaire with plans to create a wind farm bought more than 130,000 acres of land near a U.S. Air Force base.
Proposed legislation is also pending in Florida, California and now South Carolina to restrict ownership of real estate by “hostile nations” or “foreign adversaries.” Some have suggested that such bills may run afoul of due process and equal protection issues.
Chicago Title published an Underwriting Memorandum on April 5 entitled “Foreign Ownership of Property in South Carolina” to advise agents of the pending legislation in our state.
You may recall that we have an existing statute (S.C. Code §27-13-30) prohibiting any “alien” or corporation controlled by an “alien” from owning or controlling more than 500,000 acres of land in South Carolina. Recently, the South Carolina Senate passed Senate Bill 576 that amends the existing statute by expressly prohibiting any citizen of a foreign adversary or corporation controlled by a foreign adversary from acquiring any interest in South Carolina property. The proposed legislation will now be considered by the House.
The term “foreign adversary” is defined in the bill as “any foreign government or nongovernment person determined by the United States Secretary of Commerce to have engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States citizens.”
And there are other bills pending along the same lines.
Senate Bill 392 would amend our existing statute to reduce the amount of property allowed to be owned by an “alien” to 1,000 acres. House Bill 3566 would add a statute to reduce to 1,000 acres the amount of land that can be owned or controlled by China, the Chinese Communist Party, or an entity whose principal place of business is located within China. House Bill 3118 would prohibit any company owned or controlled by China or the Chinese Communist Party or that has a principal place of business in China from owning, leasing, possessing, or exercising any control over real estate located within 50 miles of a state or federal military base for the purpose of installing or erecting any type of telecommunications or broadcasting tower.
All dirt lawyers will know immediately that all versions of the proposed legislation will create uncertainty in our market. I have only two pieces of advice at this point. First, let’s all monitor the proposed legislation. And, second, let’s pay attention to guidance provided by our excellent title insurance underwriters.