Following The Rules Is Way to Protect Property

by Garland M Baker on March 23, 2004

Property is registered here in Zapote
The Web page is

Horror stories abound of property owners not doing their homework or, expressed in legal terms, their due diligence, and losing their property to unscrupulous third parties, including squatters and/or the tax authorities.

The correct registration of a property is the most important element in land ownership and not the deed in Costa Rica. Just because someone appears to be the legal owner of a piece of real estate does not necessarily mean they are.

Similar to the laws in the U.S. state of Louisiana, real estate ownership under Costa Rica law is divided into two elements. One person has the use of the property and another has the ownership. The person with the use is said to have an usufruct (referred to as the usofructo in Costa Rica) of the property, whereas the owner is called the naked owner. When you own or purchase a piece of property, you need to be sure you have the rights to both.
Also, like in Louisiana, property can be held indivision between one or more people. This means each person can hold an undivided interest in the property, none owning any particular piece because each owns a portion of the whole.

This kind of property ownership is very common in Costa Rica, especially in large families, and is divided mostly for inheritance purposes but can cause a quagmire of legal problems. For example, if one person dies in the indivision ownership, his/her death can force a liquidation of the whole to satisfy the estate of the person who dies.

Another risk is that one of the owners is sued and the ownership of his/her portion is attached by the court, which could cause a liquation of the whole to pay the judgment.

More importantly, the individual parts cannot be sold with the right of use because the parts depend on the whole. However, the unscrupulous have been known to sell these pieces to the unsuspecting because they are not familiar with this type of ownership.

Costa Rican law is based on civil law and not common law, as in most of the United States. Civil law equates to details and procedures, and rules are the game here. Simply not doing something right can put your piece of Costa Rica in jeopardy.

You need to be sure your property is correctly registered with the Costa Rica Registry, or Registro Nacional. You need to be sure you have the kind of title you think you have. You should have a receipt showing your territorial taxes are paid and a certification from the municipality reflecting you are paid up with that entity too.

Many older properties do not have catastros or official topographical maps registered with the national registry and the municipality. This is very important. Not having one probably means the territorial taxes of a piece of property have never been paid.

Paying property taxes is an integral part of property ownership in Costa Rica and, believe it not, most people have never paid the basic taxes on their properties.

A check of your current holdings in Costa Rica is a good idea, especially now in the country’s new climate of going after those generally not following the rules.

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