Purchase or Lease of Foreign Mission Property
A foreign mission first should establish its program, employment and building space needs and make a determination for the methods of acquisition of the property.
The Secretary of State has required all foreign missions in the United States to notify the Office of Foreign Missions prior to any acquisition, lease, change in use, sale or other disposition, by or on behalf of the foreign mission, of real property which is located in the United States. This includes, but is not limited to any purchase, resale, lease,, alteration, addition or change in the purpose for which real property is used by a foreign mission. It also includes any real property made available to a foreign mission.
All foreign missions must submit a written request in the form of diplomatic note to the Office of Foreign Missions. At a minimum, the note should include:
- The exact address of the property, including apartment or suite number.
- The proposed use of the property, i.e., chancery, chancery annex, consulate, consular annex, residence.
- The method of acquisition, i.e., purchase or lease (including lease term).
Missions are encouraged to notify the Office of Foreign Missions of proposed acquisitions as early in the process as possible. Missions that obtain the benefit of the Department's experience and advice in the early stages of an acquisition may avoid unnecessary financial or legal complications.
After receipt of the diplomatic note, the Foreign Missions Act allows the Department up to sixty (60) days to review the request. In most instances, the Office of Foreign Missions will be able to provide a response well before the expiration of the sixty-day period, normally in two or three weeks. In some cases, however, the full review period may be required and missions are therefore encouraged to submit notifications as far in advance as possible. Prior to receiving a response from the Department to the notification, or the expiration of the sixty-day period, a mission may not enter into a contract or lease agreement unless the agreement expressly states that the execution of the agreement is subject to the disapproval by the Department of State. The Chiefs of Mission are reminded that significant financial and legal complications could result if this requirement is overlooked.
Properties acquired by foreign missions for diplomatic or consular purposes are to be used in their entirety for the prescribed purposes. Property approved for diplomatic or consular purposes may not be used, even in part, for any other purpose, such as office space for other government organizations, state-owned or private commercial entities, or renting out to any other party not affiliated with the mission, without the express consent of the Department. Missions should be aware that, in some cases, United States law may preclude the granting of such consent.
Property for Chancery Use
Chanceries and chancery annexes are traditionally located in the District of Columbia. However, the Department will consider other locations in the Washington Metropolitan Area, on a case-by-case basis.
For chanceries or chancery annexes located in the District of Columbia, the determination as to whether a proposed site is acceptable, or whether the expansion or alteration of an existing chancery complies with local building codes and regulations, is subject to section 4306 of the Foreign Missions Act. The approval process outlined in that section of the Act is concerned solely with the location, expansion, or alteration of the chanceries in the District of Columbia, and is separate from, and in addition to, the notification process outlined above and mandated by section 4305 of the Act.
Property for Residential Use
All apartments or houses leased or purchased by the foreign missions for residential use by members of the mission are subject to the Department notification requirements under section 4305 of the Act. Residential properties may be located outside the District of Columbia and are not subject to the provisions of section 4306 of the Act.
Although not subject to section 4306 of the Act, the purchase and use of residential properties is subject to compliance with the applicable laws and regulations of the local jurisdiction and, as with properties for chancery use, the alteration or expansion of such properties is subject to the prior notification requirements of the Department and to compliance with local building codes and regulations.
Property for Consular Use
The prior notification requirements of section 4305 of the Foreign Missions Act also apply to the purchase, sale, lease, alteration, expansion, or change of use of consular properties, office or residential, acquired by foreign missions in the United States.
Lack of compliance with the prior notification requirement is a violation of the U.S. Law.
The Chiefs of Mission are reminded that the Office of Foreign Missions has regional offices in New York, Chicago, Houston, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, to assist consulates in complying with requirements of the Foreign Missions Act and with the laws and regulations of the local jurisdiction. The Department has no objection to consular posts providing written notification of proposed property transactions directly to the appropriate OFM regional office.
In addition to the notification requirements, consular properties are subject to the building and land-use laws and regulations of the local jurisdiction, including permit requirements. It is the responsibility of the mission and their consular posts to be informed and in compliance with the regulations of the jurisdiction in which they are located. Inasmuch as failure to comply with local laws could result in legal and financial complications for a consular post, missions are encouraged to notify the Department, and consult with the Office of Foreign Missions, regarding a particular project at the earliest possible date.
Requirement for an Occupancy Permit
All foreign missions are required to obtain an occupancy permit from the Government of the District of Columbia before a building or office may be occupied as a chancery or chancery annex. Applications for an occupancy permit may be found www.dcra.dc.gov. In addition to a contingency for Department of State disapproval as discussed above, the execution of a purchase contract or lease agreement for a chancery should also be subject to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy from the District of Columbia.
Zoning Approval Process
Depending on the location of the property, the occupancy permit may be issued as a matter of right or after the chancery use has been reviewed and approved by the Foreign Missions Board of Zoning Adjustment (FMBZA) of the District of Columbia. If a property is located in an area subject to the Board or Zoning Adjustment (BZA) review, OFM will advise the mission of this fact. The FMBZA review process will take several months to complete and will include a public hearing. Should the acquisition be subject to FMBZA review, the mission will need private legal representation to complete the approval process.
Missions are required to obtain all necessary building and construction permits. Such permits will normally not be issued by the Government of the District of Columbia without the written concurrence of the Office of Foreign Missions. Based on reciprocity, the Office of Foreign Missions may ask the District Government to issue a construction permit without fee. Private contractors should be informed that applications for building and construction permits in the District of Columbia, must first be submitted to the Office of Foreign Missions for review and transmittal to the appropriate local authority.