Greece: Satellite Imagery helps enforce property rights

The problem

In Greece, buildings without a valid construction permit represent a major threat to the beauty of its landscapes and the safety of its residents.

For the past decade, periodic amnesties allowed homeowners to declare unlicensed structures and pay a fine. Penalties however did not put an end to the phenomenon.

The challenge

To protect the country’s green and cultural richness, the Greek Government looked for a cost-efficient and time-saving tool to support the Ministry of Environment in identifying illegal structures.

In 2011, the Greek Government moved forward in its efforts to crack down on illegal constructions with a new law. The law contained guidelines and rules to tackle illegal buildings in the country. It aimed to motivate property owners to voluntarily declare structures without permits and obliged them to legalise in case they wanted to sell or make any official changes to their property.

The satellite solution

The Greek Ministry of Environment, responsible for applying building regulations and permits, turned to Greek geo-information company TotalView for a solution. Together they built a tool that would allow the Ministry to ensure compliance with the new procedures listed in the aforementioned law.

TotalView worked with European Space Imaging to help local authorities in Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Antiparos, Athens, Rhodes, and Crete respond to the new buildings requirements. During the pilot phase, started in 2012, the service allowed the authorities to identify and demolish 132 buildings illegally built and/or altered before or after 2011. 

WorldView-2 and DigitalGlobe’s image archives include images dating back to 2000 – a sufficiently long timeline to adequately track if a construction permit has been respected. Satellite Imagery allowed the Ministry to identify illegal buildings and assess their compliance with construction permits. Based on this information, the Ministry of Environment is today able to impose the right penalties and fines for any illegal structures. Moreover, satellite images also count as legal proof of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of these buildings. Thus, the images support cadastral offices and territorial planners to preserve the integrity of the urban and natural landscapes. 

The results

Today, the Satellite Imagery based system is routinely used by the Ministry. Land owners in Greece were made aware that building structures are monitored and this resulted in a decrease in the number of new illegal buildings being erected after 2011 across the country.


Citizens’ awareness and engagement with satellite information increased as well. Should a private citizen want to declare the existence of illegal structures, Satellite Imagery needs to be included to verify the accuracy of the declarations made.

Vana Giavi