Municipalities would approve residential access

A new measure makes clear that security guards may not prevent vehicles and individuals from entering residential areas.

The measure got final approval in the Asamblea Legislativa Thursday. The measure now goes to the president for probable approval.

The measure, No. 17116, regulates the construction of guard shacks, called casitas in Spanish, at the entrance to residential communities. It allows the use of chains and gates (agujas in Spanish) only as a way of conducting surveillance of pedestrians and vehicles. The law authorizes guards to take down license plate numbers, but it expressly forbids impeding the right of free transit.

Permission for guard shacks is delegated to the municipality. Violations in which someone is denied access results in fines assessed on the security firm. The measure is not clear, but it would seem to cover the entry to private roads, too.

The concept of free transit is in the Costa Rican Constitution. Guards routinely deny access or condition access on proof of a good reason for the motorist or pedestrian to enter a residential area. A series of Sala IV decisions has defended the right to access, but nervous residents continued to seek access restrictions.

The legislature first got the measure in 2008. The measure seems to legitimize gates and chains as methods of surveillance rather than restrictions on access. Some 41 lawmakers voted for the measure on second reading, and a number said that citizens have the right to safeguard their property.

Yolanda Acuña Castro, a lawmaker of Partido Acción Ciudadana, lamented the fact that citizens have to pay twice for security, once to the municipality and then to a private guard firm.

Municipalities can only give permission for a guard shack if asked by a formal organization representing residents or by a petition signed by 70 percent of the residents affected, according to the law. Even though the guard shack can be built on a sidewalk, space must be left for pedestrians, it says.

There is the possibility of a Sala IV challenge to the definition of a gate or chain as a measure of surveillance rather than something designed to impede access.

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