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From Dream Home to Kindling: Hint of Things to Come

by Garland M Baker on January 14, 2008

Beach house is on its way down!

If they have property in the maritime zone, expats can look forward to a hard time this year from municipalities up and down the coasts. If that is not enough stress for 2008, the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía will be in line to add more tension. Some expats may be losing their comfy beach houses if they are located in the wrong places.

Municipalities over the past couple of years have awakened. They are now in a fret and furor trying to make up for lost ground. The first attack is tearing down structures within the 50 meters zone. This has gone on now for a couple of years. A visit to Guanacaste over Christmas shows the momentum increasing. The first 50 meters on the coast is the public zone. All the people of Costa Rica have rights to this land, but for years some have built or encroached on this zone. The Costa Rican government has complete sovereignty to protect the area for the people. Municipalities do the policing.

In some cases, targets include certain high profile Costa Rican landmarks owned by Costa Ricans, like the Mar y Sombra restaurant in Quepos. In other areas of the country, expats are first on the destruction list.

One hotel owner in Paquera received notice in August to tear down a 50-year-old house. He loved this beach house and that is where he stayed when visiting the country, not in his hotel. His argument that the house existed way before the maritime law became effective fell on deaf ears.

The owner received official papers stating if he did not tear down the house, he and his legal representative would face criminal court action.

What made him mad is not that he had to tear down the structure. He said he respects the country’s laws and wants to contribute to its development. He is mad because his Tico neighbors with houses on the adjacent beach did not get the same legal notice.

More maddening is that as he began tearing down his beloved house, the inspectors came back and added other structures to the list. Now it looks like the municipality is going to pour salt into his wounds by increasing his taxes this year.

This poor expat has his personal troubles with his municipality. However, he is lucky, others have much bigger problems.

Most concessions in the maritime zone need to be renewed every 20 years. This means updating all the paperwork and resubmitting it for approval. Those doing so are finding the rules of the game different. The rule of thumb in Costa Rica is when things work well, change them to return to havoc.

It is the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía’s job to determine what areas from 50 meters to 200 meters above mean high tide can and cannot be transformed into a concession in the maritime zone. This department of the government did not do its job for many years in protecting environmentally sensitive spots. The pendulum has swung from doing little to overkill.

In one concession in Guanacaste up for renewal, the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía says there is not one concession but four and that many condominiums there are built on land that is protected because of environmental concerns. The concession holder is in a quandary. He does not know what to do. Costa Rica law states a Costa Rican can only own one concession at a time. Will the concession holder lose the other concessions? Will he need to tear down existing structures to adhere to the law?

Now the biggest scare of all for 2008. Costa Rica wants its cut on maritime property over and above the measly pittance it receives in taxes The country has figured out concessions are sold for mega
millions of dollars to international trend setters and the country gets zip on the sales. The legislature is discussing this fact, trying to come up with ideas to get a piece of the mega bucks.

In 2008, municipalities will tear down more and more structures close to the beach, including homes and businesses. The Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía will rigorously apply rules with a vengeance to make up for lost time when officials were not doing their job, making new concession applications and renewals wearisome. These events promise a frustrating year for expats and developers living or investing in the maritime zone.

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