I swore I wouldn’t post anything on my blog about squatters and squatting until our interminable legal case has been tried and a verdict rendered, but I couldn’t help myself this morning, and besides our case may outlive the Dickens’ Jarndyce v Jarndyce so I might as well forge ahead.
Squatting in Costa Rica is a national sport. Of our five neighbors, three are actively involved in the activity, two directly with us.
The idea stems from something called adverse possession and grew from an egalitarian constitutional law when Costa Rica formed its fledgling democracy in 1949. The squatter laws were designed to allow poor landless farmers to settle and work unoccupied land and claim it for themselves. The idea— good in theory— was to prevent oligarchic forces from holding large tracts of land leaving the majority of the population scratching out a living as landless laborers.
Known here as “precaristas,” squatters can begin to acquire rights to the land in as little as three months. After a year, they can take proof of occupancy to the titling agency, the Agriculture Development Institute (IDA), and have the land declared in conflict. If that happens, IDA can force the previous landowner to sell the land to the precaristas.
All this is well and good; everyone deserves to have a place to live. However, as land values have increased and the population has grown, developers have entered the arena and hired professional squatters to camp out on people’s land, eventually forcing a sale at a reduced rate. It is a nasty business.
But that is really not what I was going to write about. It appears the behavior of squatting is creeping north, like killer bees, or perhaps the United States is becoming Latin American, not only in minority demographics but also in attitude.
Here is the flip-side of the squatter argument as it relates to one Andre “Loki Boy” Barbosa, a Brazilian who has recently occupied a vacant mansion in Boca Raton, Florida. You can read about it here but essentially he moved into a vacant 2.5 million dollar mansion, a foreclosure property owned by The Bank of America.
Apparently Florida has an adverse possession law on the books, and on December 26th Loki Boy turned on the lights and declared he was in possession of the property. The police have been unable to legally remove him and, according to news reports, he is within his rights to be in the house. The neighbors are fit to be tied.
But here is the interesting part. It turns out that Bank of America has kept this particular house off the market to artificially drive up housing prices in a weak market. With fewer houses of this calibre actively for sale, the theory goes, the bank is driving the real estate market and the so-called housing recovery. Here is an interesting website talking about the phony recovery and all the houses that are now stashed in the wings, a method known as foreclosure stuffing. The banks, who got a minor wrist slap for their part in the robo-foreclosures of the housing debacle, it appears are now manipulating the rebound. Meanwhile they are leaving houses vacant.
The New Oligarchs.
So hats off, Loki Boy. It has certainly brought to light some very ugly things about the “housing recovery.”
Sadly, today’s news reports he has been issued an eviction order.
Our squatters? In 2009 we obtained a restraining order from the agricultural court and are currently mired in the legal process, which could be described as a workout at your local gym. Like any good session on a Nautilus machine, the undertaking stresses the body and mind just to the breaking point before relinquishing enough satisfaction to bring us back for another round.