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Squatter’s Rights And Adverse Possession In Latin America

Squatters’ Rights And Adverse Possession In Mexico

“Kathleen, I’m writing in response to your post on squatters and adverse possession from Rachel A.

“I live in Mexico, and this does happen here. If there is a squatter present on a property you want to buy, write a clause into your offer and make it a pre-condition of your putting down a deposit or buying the property that there is no adverse possession issue. You can just talk with the owner making it clear that there will be no purchase if there is a squatter issue. This works particularly well if the owner is Mexican and can go through the somewhat long process of getting the authorities to evict the squatter. Or use a Mexican lawyer/real estate agent to come to a ’solution’ (payment) to get rid of the problem before you buy.

“Especially for part-time residents, caretakers can be a slippery issue. They are good for towns with casual theft issues, securing your property during bad weather and getting it ready for your arrival (cleaning, maintenance, gardening, pool). A property management company or a caretaker that is from a real estate or other company (this is rare outside big cities) is ideal. Another good solution is a neighbor’s live-in caretaker who you pay to look in on your property also.

“Having your own caretaker can be a headache because of local labor laws that favor the worker rather than employer. This can make it difficult to fire a non-performing caretaker, one that refuses to retire when no longer capable of heavy work, etc. In Mexico, you are also liable for social security and many other payments if the caretaker is employed by you for more than a few months.

“Squatters are not going to be a big problem unless you buy a piece of property and leave it untended for a very long period. Having a neighbor or expat friend dropping by, a house-sitter, or hiring someone to make sure everything is OK with your property is not difficult. It also avoids any headache from a squatter or from a neighbor encroaching on your access/view/fence line.

“In Mexico, squatters are a minor possibility and nothing to keep you from buying a property here. But it is worth the minor expense to have someone looking in on your property to ensure your dream home is in top condition and ready for you when you come.”

–Kelly S., Mexico

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Squatters’ Rights And Adverse Possession In Panama And Costa Rica

“I have been told that there are several countries, including Panama, where squatters can gain rights to your property if you leave even for a short time. Can you tell me if this is true? My husband and I are very interested in living part-time outside the United States but have these concerns.”

— Robyn C., United States

Resident global real estate investing expert Lief Simon replies:

“The only place I know where squatters gain rights in a very short time is Costa Rica, where someone can gain minimal rights after as little as 30 days on the land. Other countries, including the United States, have adverse possession laws, whereby rights accrue over many years, typically 10 to 15. The rules vary country to country. You should clarify them for the country where you’re buying with the attorney helping you through the purchase process.

“Generally, adverse possession occurs with vacant land effectively abandoned by the owner. Someone comes along and builds a house or starts farming the property. This isn’t as much of an issue for a house on a small lot or an apartment. If you invest in a vacant piece of land, however, where you aren’t living full-time yourself, you should engage a caretaker, someone who is physically present year-round. This can cost very little (maybe US$200 or US$300 per month, plus a small caretaker’s house where he can live). Indeed, it’s a good idea to have someone looking after your house or apartment for you, as well, whenever you can’t be there yourself.”

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