Thursday, September 25, 2014


There is extensive internet coverage about squatters in Costa Rica and squatters rights.

Squatters rights exist worldwide and in Costa Rica squatters rights were incorporated into law to protect families who had lived on and improved lands in some cases for generations, but the lands were technically owned by large landowners who were not farming the land.

When the land registry was brought into being, many of these small farmers were not aware that they should register their interest in the land which they farmed, and in some cases unscrupulous large landowners could register the small landowners land as theirs. Squatters rights protected these small farmers.

Now squatters are people who move onto a piece of property which they do not own, live there for at least a year and who improve the property by working the land and/or constructing a dwelling. Squatters then may have a legal right to live there since they may have acquired a “right of possession”.

Written into the Civil Code of Costa Rica are many sections that deal with the rights of possession. Such clauses tend to favor the small, poor land-holder by upholding de facto "squatters rights".

Technically, squatters can only attempt to gain legal rights to a non-maritime property by peacefully occupying non-cultivated, unimproved agrarian land over an extended period of time. The difficulty of maintaining one's rights over those of the squatters is due to the ambiguous nature of the law and loose legal definitions of "non-cultivated" or "unimproved" land. It can be equally difficult to establish the duration of the squatter occupation, which is a crucial piece of evidence in the eviction process. According to the law, in case of doubt, "good faith" is presumed on the side of the squatters.

There are legal steps that can be taken to rid one's land of squatters. Procedurally, the eviction process is divided into three phases. 

Eviction during the First Three Months of Occupation

The first phase is the eviction of squatters during the first three months of occupation. Early discovery is vital, as during this period the landowner does not need to go to court. The landowner need only alert the local police, who are then obliged to evict the squatters. The problem is  that it can be extremely difficult to get the police to carry out their duty. If the landowner is not in the country eviction is difficult to verify. Even though eviction within the first three months is in principle a straightforward procedure early discovery can be difficult if the landowner lives outside of Costa Rica.

Eviction During the Period of Three Months to One Year of Occupation

The second phase is after the initial three months of occupation but before one year. If squatters are

"allowed" to squat on property for this duration of time the landowner must go to the courts and start the process of "administrative eviction". 

Occupation for more than one year

According to the law, squatters have then achieved a "legal assumption," and the owners must go through an ordinary lawsuit to evict them. However for the court to grant the property rights to squatters, they must prove that they have been on the land "uninterrupted," "non-challenged" and "peacefully" for ten years.

There are no foolproof, preventive measures for eliminating the problem of squatters on land owned in absentia but there are a few preventative measures that can be taken:
  1. The property should not appear abandoned and signs should be posted with the owner's name. 
  2. Hire a caretaker for the property. In some cases if has been known for the the caretaker to squat on the land that he is paid to protect. The easiest way to avoid this is to register the caretaker as an employee. This entails paying minimum wage and social security. The landowner should also demand signed receipts from the caretaker as proof of payment. Under law an employee hired to guard a property cannot become a squatter
Problems with squatters tend to occur on large remote properties. Well maintained, secured and care-taken properties do not encounter these problems.

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