Property Ownership in Costa Rica
Just like in the United States, Canada, and Europe, there are different types of property available to purchase, and understanding these various types is critical in the evaluation process. To help make your decision, the following describes Costa Rican property types and the implications of each to you, the buyer.
The most comprehensive form of property ownership in Costa Rica is fee simple ownership. In this respect, the conditions for this type of ownership are the same for Costa Rican nationals as they are for foreigners. The concept of fee simple ownership is the same in Costa Rica as in the United States, Canada and Europe; namely, fee simple ownership gives the owner of the property the absolute right to materially own the property, use it, enjoy it, sell it, lease it, improve it, among other uses, subject only to conditions outlined by Costa Rican law.
Concessions in the Shoreline Zone
Beachfront property is more commonly know as “concession property.” In Costa Rica, 95% of beachfront property is concession property and is governed by the Shoreline Zone Law (Law No. 6043) and other specific regulations including but not limited to special dispositions ensuing from local governments (i.e. municipalities) and the Costa Rican Board of Tourism (ICT). These legal dispositions establish the conditions under which foreigners and local residents can lease concession property.
In Costa Rica, a concession is defined as the right to use and enjoy a specific portion of land located on the shoreline zone for a predetermined period of time and based on a predetermined use of soil (zoning or master plan; in Spanish, “Plan Regulador”). The Government, through its corresponding municipality, grants this right by means of a private agreement, between concessionaire and municipality, that is further recorded in the Public Registry. This agreement also establishes a yearly concession fee that is paid based on an appraisal performed by government financial authorities.
Costa Rica’s shoreline zone is comprised of 200 meters starting at the mean high tide mark and heading inland. The 200 meter zone is government owned. No individual or company can own the 200 meter zone. The shoreline zone is is divided into two strips of land:
The first strip is 50 meters (approximately 150 feet) wide and is known as the “public zone.” This zone is absolutely public and is not available for ownership of any kind. No development is allowed, except for constructions approved by government entities (i.e. marinas). Furthermore, this area is deemed public, therefore, it is available or use of any individual.
The following 150 meters can be subject to occupation or lease by individuals or companies, either through a concession with the respective municipality (in case of residential and commercially exploitable portions or land) or a management Plan with the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), in the case of environmentally sensitive, low density, portions of land. In both cases, the property can be used, although not owned (same as with a lease).
Both concession agreements and management plans are entered into between private parties and the Government for a limited period of time that ranges between 5 and 20 years, at the Government’s discretion; however, most concessions and management plans are granted for 20 years. During such period, the concessionaire pays a fee to for the use and occupation of such Government land. Renewal for equal and consecutive periods is negotiated between private parties and the corresponding government authority and, such renewal is usually based on the concessionaire’s ability to comply with his or her commitments and obligations during the previous agreement. Such obligations include having assumed the compromise to build on that concession land, subdivide it or perform other acts of development or improvement on the land, in which case, the concessionaire will require to obtain with all appropriate permits from the local municipality.
Unlike fee simple property, foreigners do not have the same rights as citizens when it comes to leasing shoreline zone concession land. The law establishes that foreigners cannot be majority owners of concession land. A foreigner can, however, enter into a partnership with a Costa Rican citizen, in which the the Costa Rican national appears as the majority holder of the concession land. An exception to this prohibition applies to foreigners who have resided in Costa Rica for at least five years; these foreigners can also appear as majority holders of a concession.
Traditionally, the concept of “Condominium” is associated with apartment buildings and townhouses. In Costa Rica, however, there is a specific law called “Condominium Property Law” that provides a framework for development of different types of properties, including single family residence projects, finished lot projects, and vertical and horizontal property condos, among others.
This law allows a developer to restrict and regulate certain aspects of the development. Each Condominium development has its own bylaws containing all applicable conditions, restrictions and regulations applicable to owners in such development.
Condominium property ownership is fee simple ownership, but usually carries with it severl additional restrictions set forth by the developer, such as architectural guidelines, land use restrictions, and other limitations that may be placed on each branch property. For the most part, condominium laws are designed to protect the integrity of a development and maintain the “look and feel” of the project.