Problems with Parachutists
Anyone who has followed the battles between I Americans and squatters in the Tico Times is aware of
hair-re stories concerning squatters and legitimate property owners. The popular name for a squatter is a paracaista
or “parachutist,” that a person who “drops in” on your property and claims it as his owns,
in short, a “squatter. If you’re thinking of buying a piece of property, you need to be aware of the squatter
Typically what happens is that someone’s unattended property becomes a tempting target for
paracaistas. They’ll set up a cabin and plant a crop, in hopes they won’t be discovered for a
year. Before this year passes, they can be tossed off the property and charged with trespassing. After a year, the case is
transferred to the Institute of Agrarian Development, where a five-person board could spend a year in negotiations and
deliberations. Often, the owner has the option of paying the squatter for his expenses and improvements or else going to
court. When the bill is too high (you can be sure it will be padded), it’s sometimes cheaper to walk away. Understand,
these problems seldom occur anywhere but on agricultural land. Land zoned residential doesn’t fall into the category
of this law.
We’ve all heard stories of North Americans who purchased lovely tracts of forested land with the intention of
building a home someday, then when they returned a few years later, were surprised to find the land cleared and someone
If the property you are interested in has an extra house and family on one orner, beware! Don’t let the
seller pass this off as Le “caretaker’s residence.” It could be a paracaista’s home!
Make sure you see documents proving that this is indeed a caretaker employee, not a squatter. In order to be a caretaker, a
person must receive the legal minimum wage rate, including social security, [us all other legal benefits. The papers proving all
of this must be to date. Insist on your lawyer examining the proof.
To most of us, the idea of someone simply moving in on your property is outrageous; it is trespassing; it is theft! Can this
really happen in a law-abiding country like Costa Rica? Aren’t property owners protected by the law? Isn’t all of
Well, it turns out that to an extent, it is legal. There are laws to e effect that unowned or abandoned property
is open for) mesteadrng, just as it was in the early days of the United States and still is in some Western states. These Costa
Rican laws were intended to prevent a few wealthy people from hogging land they don’t use and don’t need.
This is precisely what happened in all her Central American countries; two or three percent of the people own up to 90
percent of the land, while the majority goes hungry. One reason Costa Rica is so much better off than her neighbors is that
citizens have access to land. The laws are well intentioned and fair. The problem lies in interpreting these laws.
Just when is a piece of land abandoned? One law, which seems ear, states that after property goes unattended for ten
years, ‘whoever has been using the land for that period may apply for a tie. And, they will be successful, unless the
original owner has a god lawyer and a valid excuse. If the occupancy is less than an ear, it’s considered trespassing and
is handled by the Ministry I Interior and the courts. After that, it becomes more serious.
The solution to this problem is simply a matter of prevention. While you are out of the country, have a friend or a
management agent drop by the property once every three months. At this point, a simple complaint to the police is usually
enough to boot someone off your land. Be sure to keep records of expenses and improvements to the property; this
constitutes proof that you haven’t abandoned the property. Having a friend plant a tree or clip some hedges once in
a while covers this. Any place where there are a lot of foreign property owners; you’ll usually find someone who
watches property as a paid service. However, be absolutely sure you know who is watching out for your property, and keep
records that he is being paid. The last thing you want to do is hire a squatter to watch over your property!
Occasionally a problem arises when a foreign resident decides to return to his home country for an extended stay and has to
lay off his employees. If he isn’t familiar with the laws, and neglects to pay workers’ benefits such as
severance pay, accrued vacation and year-end bonuses, the employees could feel justified in taking over the land as
compensation. Chapter Eleven covers this in detail.
However repugnant the idea of squatting may be to you, it is important to operate within the law. After all, paracaistas have
rights, like it or not. One lady, who had just purchased some property, told me that she was informed that “the only
way to deal with squatters is to burn down their houses,” and that’s what she intended to do if she ever
found any on her property. I was horrified to think of someone on a tourist visa, a guest in the country, taking the law into
her own hands by setting fire to someone’s home!
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