Lawmakers ducked chance to protect property rights

Legislative archives show that lawmakers deep sixed a bill that would have protected property owners who were the victims of fraud at the Registro Nacional.

The measure, No. 18.215, would have resolved a judicial conflict between the Sala Primera and the Sala Tercera of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

Basically the bill said that anyone who loses property because of paperwork fraud should get the property back. That is the position of the Sala Tercera high criminal court. But the Sala Primera, the civil high court, protects those who are known as innocent third parties.

The Sala IV constitutional court declined to adjudicate the conflict.

The innocent parties are those who purchase stolen real estate from the crooks in what the court says is good faith. Naturally, many property crooks quickly pass along ownership of faked titles to confederates, and this leaves the legitimate owner with few recourses. The same thing can happen to mortgages.

The Sala Primera interpretation can lead to humorous situations. In one case, wives of some highly placed politicians argued that they were innocent third parties because they bought a million dollar tract in Manuel Antonio from the local snow cone vendor on the beach.

Even the Costa Rican courts did not buy that one.

The proposed bill would have defended the chain of title and the rights of the original, legitimate and valid owner with an addition to Article 457 of the civil code.

The Comision Permanente de Asuntos Juridicos declined to make the change and issued a negative opinion a year ago.

The Ministerio Público, the nation’s prosecutors, had supported the measure as a reiteration of the supremacy of the constitutional right to property.

But the director of the Registro Nacional, Dagoberto Sibaja Morales, issued a blistering critique and said the measure, if passed, would break the principle of transferring property in the country.

This was one of those measures that received little, if any, publicity when it was presented to lawmakers or when the legislative committee rejected it. The nine members of the committee appeared to be unanimous in the decision.

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