Urgent changes can help protect expats and their properties

A news story Friday shined the spotlight again on the complexities of property ownership here.

The uncertainties of keeping a property represent a drag on the expat real estate market. An investment in Costa Rica can lead to years of court battles.

We suggest the following legislative change: Costa Rica must respect the chain of title and eliminate the concept of the innocent third party.

Under current law, a land crook can submit the paperwork drawn up by a crooked notary, gain title and then sell the property to an unsuspecting third party. The law respects the rights of the third party and not that of the real owner.

The former owner just has the option of suing the crook.

This is wrong, and many times the so-called innocent third party is a member of a conspiracy.

The lawyer’s union, the Colegio de Abogados, must do a better job of policing its members.

The whole concept of professionalization of an industry requires strong internal oversight. In Costa Rica there are lawyers still practicing who have been convicted or accused of a crime. The colegio should shred the cédula of a member if convicted of a felony or a delito. If the lawyer is accused of a crime, the colegio should investigate and suspend the membership if it appears by a preponderance of evidence that the lawyer is guilty when the crime involves legal skullduggery.

If the lawyer is acquitted, the license should be reinstated.

Lawmakers should eliminate laws that allow a criminal to buy his way out of a crime. There are lawyers and scammers in preventative detention now who never will be convicted because they will pay off their accusers for pennies on the dollar. We see this in other crimes, too, and such a concept is a license to steal.

Lawmakers and the Colegio de Abogados should combine to enact stronger penalties for fake cases. Many times, as part of a civil case strategy, a lawyer will file a criminal case that causes the civil case to come to a halt. Frequently the criminal case has no merit. But it may be several years before the criminal case is adjudicated and the civil case allowed to continue.

We have said in the past that judges should have the power to throw out a case very early in the criminal process when there really is no evidence of wrongdoing. And lawyers who file such cases should either be suspended or thrown out of the colegio.

Finally, judicial police must pay stronger attention to deaths when someone appears shortly thereafter claiming ownership of the deceased’s property. Many crooks at this moment have inserted their name on property records in anticipation of the death of an elderly owner. The crooks suddenly appear with the forged paperwork sometimes even as the funeral is taking place.

Expats need to realize that for every foreigner who is the victim of property fraud, there are dozens of Costa Rican victims, and many do not have the knowledge or the funds to fight the scammers.

Garland Baker, A.M. Costa Rica’s contributor, has urged property owners to create mortgage certificates as a surefire way to protect their holdings. We refer readers to that news story HERE!

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