A tale of an expatriate’s purloined pad in Central America—by a private investigator in Costa Rica.
Recently, we caught a rather bizarre case in the town of Santa Ana, Costa Rica. My client (a North American expatriate) called to say that a Costa Rican family had just moved into his house. We headed out and locked the place down, to no avail— the police cut our locks, and the squatters moved right back in.
In my experience, the policing system in Costa Rica is pretty rough (although the Costa Rican F.B.I. [O.I.J.] is excellent). As in many developing countries, the police make so little money—around $400 per month—that they’re eager for a little “extra income.” People are constantly paying them off. Basically, you get as much justice as you can afford.
We talked to no fewer than eight attorneys about the squatter laws in Costa Rica. Not a single one of them knows the law or how it works.
We managed to have the water shut off, but power was another matter. According to local law, if we cut off the electricity, any person (even the thief) can have it turned back on with no proof of ownership.
This is where it gets crazy: When we dug a little deeper into our Costa Rican squatter family, we learned that one of the women there has “stolen” at least three other properties in Costa Rica. (Her sister just got out of prison, so we suspect her as a possible accomplice.)
She finds a target house and moves her son and nephew into the house. They slap $50 worth of paint on it, then sit back and live there for free…and wait.
Eventually, they claim to have “improved” the house and commence extorting money from the owner to get them out. Their goal is to outlast the expat and run up his court costs until he says “to hell with this,” gives up, and goes home.
In the end, she gets the house and splits the money with the police and an attorney.
We still have a few more moves to make. (I cannot reveal all my methods!) But there’s little to stop her and her thieves from staying in the house for months while my client pays all the taxes. And the City of Santa Ana, Costa Rica says, “Too bad! It’s the expat’s fault because he didn’t live in the house full time.”
And so it goes, in sunny Paradise.