Conflicts With Squatters

Squatters in Costa Rica are nomadic people that search for unoccupied land, build a shelter there, perhaps start a few crops, and pray that the legitimate owners do not discover their community long enough for them to acquire rights to the property. By law, a person can acquire the rights to a plot of land if the legitimate owner allows that person to reside there for more than a year. And even if you do convince your guests to leave, be prepared to pay. After a year, squatters have the right to bargain for their exodus and will likely charge you for compensation and any "improvements" they have made to your land. Be aware, however, "improvements" are not necessarily what you consider positive changes - they could charge you for mowing down all of your trees and making pastureland out of your future tropical getaway. In the worst-case scenario, landowners have had to walk away from their investment rather than pay compensation.

On the other hand, squatters that have not resided on the property for more than a year are trespassing, and this matter is overseen by the Ministry of Interior and the courts. If the trespass is less than 90 days, the local police department is obligated to remove the squatters immediately.

To many of us, the idea of another person moving onto our land and taking control of it is utterly ridiculous. But in order to understand the law, we must look at the intentions of those that designed it. Compared to the rest of Central America, the wealth in Costa Rica is very well distributed. This is most likely due to the fact that Ticos have always been granted access to land. Therefore, a law such as the one that protects squatters rights is simply preventing the situation where a few members of society have the rights to all of the land.

The solution to the squatter problem is fairly straightforward - take the appropriate preventative steps and you will save yourself a lot of trouble. In order to avoid the red tape and legal wrangling of evicting a squatter community through the courts, you will want to make sure that your unwelcome residents not stay for more than 90 days. Up until that time, the local police must cooperate in removing them. Therefore, have some form of contact with your land at least every three months, making it clear to the community that you have not abandoned it. If you are unable to visit that often, have a friend that lives in that area check on things. Make sure, however, that the person you choose is a true amigo, or else you might just find them squatting when you return. If you decide to hire someone to act as a caretaker while you are gone, it is important to keep good records of their employment, salary, social security, vacations, and Christmas bonus (see Hiring Domestic Labor). If your worker starts to be a squatter, these records will prove that the squatter was actually hired as a squatter-remover.

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