Land Squatters in Costa Rica
Squatters, or precaristas, as they are known in Costa Rica, can be a real problem.
In Costa Rica squatters have certain rights. The laws that protect them
were originally passed to prevent wealthy people from acquiring too much
land, as in some Latin American countries. Land ownership here is an active
process — stop taking care of it and it will go to someone who will. It is
the law and the intent of the law. Costa Rica did not establish its law so
that foreigners could buy large chunks of land and leave it idle as a future
investment. They established their law originally so that they wouldn’t have
a large class of people denied land because a few very rich owned it.
Undeveloped land is a prime target for squatter invasions. Once they
establish themselves on your land, it is difficult to get rid of them. If they
occupy the land for less than a year, it is fairly easy to have them removed,
especially during the first three months. The sooner you get them off the
land, the fewer problems you will have. Be careful! After a certain period of
time they can claim the land as their own.
The best way to avoid squatters is to prevent them from settling on your
land. Visit the land periodically to help prevent people from settling on it.
If you cannot live on your property year-round, then you will have to hire
a guard, caretaker or a reliable house sitter to watch it for you. If you have
a caretaker make sure to obtain a receipt each time you pay him. Have your
lawyer or some other person keep an eye on your caretaker. There have been
cases in which caretakers have tried to squat on land.
Also, make sure boundary fences and limit signs are well maintained
and visible. If you have to be an absentee owner, you can have a friend or
attorney stop by to check your property periodically.
There is a trustworthy professional house-sitting agency in San José that
will watch your home while you are away. It is bonded and will provide
references upon request. You may contact the agency at 2256-7890.