The real estate question most commonly asked by foreigners is a very basic one: “Can I legally own real estate in Costa Rica?” The answer to this is a definite “yes”. With a few exceptions, such as owning a corporation that holds a lease on a state-owned shoreline property or owning real estate within 2 kilometers of either one of the borders, foreigners are not restricted in holding property rights to land, shares, or any other form of private property. They enjoy the same degree of constitutional and legal protection as Costa Rican citizens. The principle of private property is a basic tenet of the Costa Rican legal and economic system, as well as the culture itself. This means that you need not be a citizen, a legal resident, nor even physically present in order to acquire or hold property rights in Costa Rica.
This implies that, as anywhere in the world, you must fulfill certain legal requirements in order to obtain the full protection of the law. For instance, the law assumes that the owner or potential investor is a “reasonable intelligent person” who will therefore; seek competent advice and exercise due diligence and vigilance in her or his own interest. In other words, the law assumes that you will seek professional advice where needed and take minimal care to protect your rights and interest. Most cases of loss in the area of real estate investment, in fact, are due to cutting investigation costs and time instead of thoroughly researching all legal and other aspects involved with a property before investing.
PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE SYSTEM
With few exceptions, land ownership must be registered at the Property Department of the Public Record Office. Liens, encumbrances and easements imposed on a recorded property should also be duly registered to have any effect on third parties. To ensure the buyer that he is acquiring land from its legal owner, and that the property is free of mortgages or other kinds of encumbrances and easements imposed on a recorded property should also be duly registered to have any effect on third parties. To ensure the buyer that he is acquiring land from its legal owner, and that the property is free of mortgages or other kinds of encumbrances, a thorough title search of the public records, must be performed as a previous and necessary step to buying real estate.
LEGAL PROCEDURES IN DEEDING AND TRANSFER OF LAN
Depending on the legal regulations applicable to a specific piece of land, there are various kinds of property ownership.
- Recorded Land: Property duly registered at the Public Record Office.
- Non-Recorded Land: Property subject to be registered at the Public Record Office, which has not been duly registered.
Because of special regulations, some areas are not subject to private ownership. This is the case of most of the beachfront property. Sometimes non-recorded land may be subject to be legally used or possessed by individuals or private companies, either through a concession granted by the Government, or the transfer of legitimate possession by the former possessor.
RECORDING AND DEEDING OF BEACHFRONT PROPERTY IN COSTA RICA
Public Law No. 6043 of March 2, 1977 establishes a restricted coastal zone called the “Zona Maritimo Terrestre” It comprises a 200 meters long strip along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Costa Rica, measured from the high tide line towards inland. This “Maritime” restricted zone is given a different treatment since it is owned by the National Government and administered by local governments (municipalities). It is divided into two sections:
- The Public Zone (Zona Publica): 50 meters wide strip of land between the high tide line and outer line of the “Restricted Zone” (Zona Restringida)
- The Restricted Zone (Zona Restringida): 150 meters wide strip of land from the inner limit of the Public Zone toward the inland.
No private individual or corporation is allowed to build on or use for private purposes any portion whatsoever of the Public Zone. However, one may obtain a lease concession on the “Restricted Zone” (Zona Restringida) for private or business use.
Leases on the Restricted Zone are authorized by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT), Costa Rica Board of Tourism, and granted by the relevant municipality. Beneficiaries of lease concessions are granted the use, occupation, and possession of the land, including the right to build.
No lease concessions are granted to non-Costa Ricans who have resided in the country less than five years, nor to foreign companies, nor to national companies of which 50% or more of its stock is owned by non-Costa Ricans.
Lease concessions may be transferred with the previous approval of the municipality and the ICT. They are generally granted for periods of time that range from 5 to 20 years. The lease-granting municipality is entitled to charge a leasing fee. The lessee can apply for an extension of the lease concession at the Municipality. Extensions are normally granted with the previous approval of the ICT. Beachfront land that is not regulated by this Law can be found, but it is extremely unusual to have a property titled in areas within the restricted 200 meters.
Current law provides for quarterly payments for a total yearly tax of 0.6 percent on the property tax values, which is generally still far below market value for most properties on the tax rolls. Tax values are currently based on mandatory declarations made by each property owner or on the most recent transactions or mortgage value declared for a given property in documents at the National Registry.
They are normally shared equally between the buyer and the seller, unless the two parties have both agreed to a different arrangement. The portion of costs relating to a mortgage or an option-to-purchase is always borne solely by the debtor. The total closing costs vary from 5% to 7% of the sales price.