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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, April 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 68            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Expat landlords need to know the rules of the game
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Expats in Costa Rica who rent to others need to know the law and the important exceptions.  Property owners also need to know that the law is not the same for all kinds of property.  Many expats prefer not to rent to Costa Ricans because they fear the local rental law due to their lack of knowledge or language ability.

On the coast, expats rent very short term — daily, weekly, and occasionally monthly — to vacationers coming to the country.  Usually, they collect their rental fees in their home country or online over the Internet.  Some do not declare the money they collect here nor elsewhere.   This scenario is a nice source of income for many and for those who do not report the income, tax-free money — at least tax-free until they are caught. 

Some expats who live here temporarily rent their homes to others when they travel for extended periods.  Usually, they use a rental agent who takes care of the monthly bills and finds short-term renters for a commission.  Today, that commission averages about 20 percent off the gross rental revenue.  Many of the expats who fall in this group do not report the income they receive either.

Usually, the people who fall in these two categories do not mess around with contracts.  Article 7 of the rental law excludes the short-term vacation rentals from the usual rules.  Rental laws do apply to the second scenario, even though people rent short-term — less than three years — to other foreigners all the time and just trust the renters will honor agreements.  However, it is important to note, a renter in this case can call foul and stay the legally mandated three years with the full support of the law.

Many foreigners build rental units for the exclusive purpose of renting to other foreigners and in rare cases to local people.  They are concerned someone will get into their property and not leave.  Here are the facts:

The “Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda, the "housing mortgage bank," each year determines the threshold for de interés social, so-called "social interest" property.  This year the amount is 24,610,000 colons.  At today’s ever decreasing exchange rate of 492 colons to a U.S. dollar this translates to a little over $50,000.   Yes, any dwelling worth $50,000 or less is social interest property, and the law treats this kind of property differently than homes worth more than $50,000.  Land value is included.

Here is a list of tenant rights for a house declared of social interest:  1.) A renter cannot be forced to pay any more than one month's deposit and the deposit cannot be higher than one month's rent. 2.) A tenant can always stop an eviction process by depositing the amount owed in court. 3.) When a rental contract ends, a property owner cannot force out a tenant unless the property owner or the property owner’s immediate family is going to move into the dwelling or the property owner intends to demolish the construction to build a new home worth at least five times more than the exisiting construction.

In the case where a tenant is evicted unjustly — for example a property owner lies about who moved into the home or does not build another one — a tenant can get the property back and get one year of rent as damages.

In the case of an eviction and the renter cannot pay, the person can always play sick or come up with other flakey excuses to postpone eviction.  One older woman, some years back, delayed her eviction for several years.

Property of social interest only applies to houses, condominiums or apartments.  The term does not apply to businesses or offices.

Renting property considered of social interest to anyone is full of pitfalls. And that is why many expats decline to rent to Costa Ricans.
rules of the game
Lack of knowledge leads to fears

Article 74 of the rental law is another interesting exception, and one that really works for expats looking for an additional income.  The article exempts up to two apartments or office units built on a property owner’s lot that share a common entrance or a common area from the normal three-year rental contract term.  A property owner only needs to give a 30-day notice to a renter to leave.  Social interest property does not apply in this case.

There are other exceptions to the rental law, all covered by Article 7 where the mandatory three-year rental term does not apply: short term rentals in tourist areas, temporary spaces rented for events, parking and vehicle storage areas, areas rented for outdoor advertising, dwellings rented to guards or people watching a property, and houses lent to someone where there is no renumeration.

There are two types of eviction processes in Costa Rica: a judicial process, meaning a case in court, and an administrative process. 

In every judicial process, there are certain documents required to continue the case.  The most important of which is an appraisal of the property by an engineer or architect to determine if the property is social interest property.  If it is not, an eviction can move along quickly.  In Costa Rica, this means it may take less than a year. 

Sometimes a tenant can use the owner's own estimate of value that has been filed with the municipality to have the property considered of social interest. Owners frequently low-ball values in order to reduce their municipal taxes. A fake statement of value filed when property is purchased also can come back and bite the owner.

Administrative processes apply to renters covered by one of the exceptions.  For example, a tenant does not want to move out of an apartment considered Article 74 exception as explained above or even a hotel room.  In this case, one must file a complaint at the security ministry in San José, and a department of this ministry decides if the police should toss out the renters.

When renting, it is important to know to whom one is renting.  Despite the fears of renting to Costa Ricans, many times foreigners can be the worst renters because some of them are crooks elsewhere.  Expats should check references and credit before renting to anyone.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 68

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Theft at university leaves
one suspect dead, one hurt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A theft turned deadly at the Universidad de Costa Rica Saturday, according to the Fuerza Pública.  Men who were burglarizing the offices of Programa de Investigación en Desarrollo Urbano Sostenible were cut short when university security guards arrived, said Olman Gómez Martínez, chief of Fuerza Pública operations in Montes de Oca.

As the thieves entered the university offices, a silent alarm warned campus security officers, said Gómez. “The university has tons of officers, more than four arrived at the scene, and even more arrived later,” said Gómez. As the thieves fled in a car, there was an interchange of shots, said Gómez. It is unclear if all the thieves were armed, said Gómez.

A driver, who was shot, crashed his car about 300 meters from the offices, said Gómez. One of the suspects died later in the hospital, and the other is in stable condition, added Gómez. A third suspect escaped, he said.

Fuerza Pública agents arrived as the action was playing out, said Gómez. “It happened very fast — everything in about 5 minutes,” he added. The case has been turned over to the Judicial Investigation Organization for investigation, said Gómez. 
Heredia man is detained
on child porn complaint

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police arrested a man they suspect took pornographic photos of children and posted them on a Web page, according to a security spokesman.

After more than a month of investigation in the child pornography case, officers from the Dirección de Investigaciones Especializadas detained a suspect in Heredia Friday. The man has the last name of Acuña, and numerous complaints have been filed against him, said the security spokesman.

Officers found a variety of cameras and computer disks in Acuña's home and a nearby house, both in Milpa, Heredia, said a spokesman from the security ministry. Officers also sized a computer hard drive, said the spokesman.

In an unrelated case, a 50-year old French man and his Costa Rican girlfriend, 22, are suspects of rape and sexual exploitation, said a judicial spokeswoman Friday.

Agents from the Judicial Investigation Organization in Ciudad Neilly began an investigation when a victim accused the couple of rape. The suspects ran a cosmetics store which also served as an Internet café and video rental store in San Vito, Coto Brus, said the judicial spokeswoman. Agents seized pornographic videos and photo albums along with two video cameras and computers, said the judicial spokeswoman.  

Dead man wrongly held,
defense office contends

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A prisoner committed suicide just minutes before lawyers presented his habeas corpus plea before the Corte Suprema de Justicia, said a judicial spokesperson Friday. Now, the public defender's office says he shouldn't have been there in the first place.

The man, Julio César Vargas Hernández, was in a holding cell at the Judicial Investigation Organization in Alajuela when he killed himself, according to a judicial spokesperson. Vargas' detainment was “illegitimate,” said a spokesman from the government public defenders office.

Cool weather does not dash
warming theory, U.N. says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The long-term trend of global warming is continuing, despite the current La Niña weather phenomenon that is bringing relatively cooler temperatures to parts of the Equatorial Pacific region, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization said Friday.

Worldwide temperatures this year are expected to be above the long-term average, even though La Niña is also likely to persist through to the middle of 2008, the organization said in a press statement issued in Geneva.

Parts of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean have experienced significantly cooler sea-surface temperatures in recent months, the organization reported, and cooling has also been recorded over China, Central Asia, Turkey and the Middle East.  But Australia, Scandinavia, Russia, the western United States, Mexico, north-eastern Brazil and the southern part of South America have generally experienced higher-than-average temperatures since last December, the organization said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 68

July 4 picnic will be reborn this year, organizers promise
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The July 4 picnic for U.S. citizens is being resurrected, and the organizers say it will hold the 2008 event at the Cervecería Costa Rica grounds on Independence Day.

That day is a Friday this year. The picnic runs form 8 a.m. to noon in order to avoid possible afternoon rains.

The organizer, the American Colony Committee got in a bind last year, in part because the picnic ground west of San José was not available. The picnic was canceled after a 47-year run.

Some suggested at the time that the picnic would never again take place. The committee invests enormous amounts of time and energy, and some key individuals were ill.

Some 3,500 U.S. citizens and dependents attended the event in 2006. As always, the food, beer and other treats were free, paid for with donations.

Not so this year, according to a letter sent out by the committee over the names of Grace Woodman and Margaret Sohn, co-chairwomen. This year the committee will seek what it says will be a small entrance fee. No amount was specified.

In the past the committee, a private group, sought voluntary donations from those who attended.

When it was started, the July 4 event was designed to show youngsters of U.S. citizens a typical Independence Day celebration. Some youngsters had never been to the United States.
july 4 picnic logo
Part of the tradition includes U.S. Marines raising the U.S. Flag and the singing of the National Anthem. The current U.S. ambassador always attended and sometimes U.S. senators and congressmen who were in the area.

The event originally was at the home of the U.S. ambassador.

As attendance grew, the celebration moved to the Cervecería Costa Rica beer company picnic grounds. Although some Costa Ricans were unhappy with the rule that attendees had to be U.S. citizens or related to one, the actual enforcement was not rigid.

There was no word on what the rule might be this year.

The committee is seeking support beforehand from the U.S. business community and other firms and individuals with ties to the United States. A suggested donation is $300, according to the letter.

Week will see the beginning of two unique arts festivals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two artistic fairs start next week, and workers are already preparing for the festivities.

The gigantic Festival Internacional de las Artes is scheduled to start Friday in Parque la Sabana and workers could be seen Sunday braving the rain to set up for the event. The art festival features children's' theater, art and crafts among other events. The international art festival will last until April 20.  

This is the first time that the long-running festival, which tries to combine all arts from circus to theater and music, will be in three cities at once.

Ferias Indígenas, another cultural fair, will feature native art, traditional food, and games from a variety of Costa Rican tribes. The event starts Saturday in Buenos Aires, Puntarenas. The fair will move Sunday to China Kichá in Pérez Zeledón and will be held Saturday, April 26, in Ciudad Cortés.

The first day features theater about the Ngöbe culture. Speakers will discuss development, environment and tourism projects in Indigenous regions. The Buenos Aires section of the fair will be held at Escuela La Piñera from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sunday, guests can learn about the Cabécar tribe and participate in other activities from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The last day of the festival is called Festival del Canalete, or paddle festival and will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m in Ciudad Cortés. 

The arts festival will unite 70 groups from 20 countries, with highlights including Chinese opera, Spanish mime artists, Bolivian theater, Venezuelan singers and Argentinian music.

La Sabana, will also be hosting events from 11 a.m. until midnight every day in a “Bulevar de las Artes.”

This new innovation is a passage that winds through Sabana Park hosting artesans from Central America and Pakistan, a Russian pavilion where workshops for
arts fair work
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Rain did not faze workers at La Sabana Sunday. They are setting up stages for the international arts fair.

traditional arts will take place, national artists, installations about environmental themes, sculpture and various other interactive projects. Three stages will be set up, one for books, one for music and the other for artists.

All of San José's major theaters, such as the Teatro Nacional, Teatro Melico Salazar and Teatro de la Danza will be involved. Acts will move between the three participating cities, using the Teatro Municipal and Casa de la Cultura in Alajuela and the Casa de la Cultura in Puntarenas.

Program details are available at

Technical university says it is creating doctorate for sustainable development
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica announced a new doctorate program that will focus on sustainable development and creating new environmentally friendly technology.

This is the first ever engineering doctorate program in Costa Rica, said a spokesperson from the university.

Program director Roberto Pereira said that the doctorate program aims to develop technology that has not yet been created in other parts of the world, according to the spokesperson.  There are many existing problems that can be solved with technology but more development must be done in order to create solutions, said Pereira.
The new program will investigate ways to deal with electronic waste, but will also attempt to create new environmentally friendly electronic materials. Students will study materials that last longer, thus creating less waste. For example, antennas that support conditions in volcanic craters, or materials for electronic circuits that resist moisture and minerals in tropical forests, said the spokesperson.

The coordinator of the new program, Pablo Alvarado, said the emphasis is especially aimed at electronics and computer engineers, physicists, computer specialists, mathematicians, and scientists, but the doctorate is not restricted, according to the spokesperson. The Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica has campuses in San José, San Carlos, and Cartago.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 68

Penalties in free trade measure are excessive, Sala IV advises
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Penalties for stealing certain types of intellectual property of from one to six years in jail are excessive, the Sala IV constitutional court has told the legislature.

The proposed penalties are in an update of the nation's intellectual property laws. The constitutional court reviewed the measure after it had been passed the first time by the Asamblea Legislativa. In a decision released Friday, the court said that the penalties were disproportionate and contrary to a guarantee in the Costa Rican Constitution.

The measure is one of those legal changes that are necessary to implement the free trade treaty with the United States here.

The original law was approved by the legislature Oct. 12, 2000, but the updates include sections that relate to pirating satellite television programs and the distribution of electronic devices designed to circumvent encryption of television shows, CDs and movies.

The Sala IV decision said that the changes themselves are not unconstitutional but that the penalties imposed are. One
article of the proposed changes sets a sliding scale for penalties based on the value of the material pirated. For wholesale theft, the prison term was set up to six years with a massive fine 10 times greater than the material pirated.

Lawmakers will likely change the penalties before passing the measure for the second and final time.

The Sala IV opinions on proposed legislation are advisory, but they are a good indication of what the court would say in a case brought after the measure was passed.

This legal change has had a rocky history, in part because the magistrates do not support harsh sentences if what is stolen is intangible, such as a movie, song or other creative work.

Costa Rica is a market for all kinds of pirating, and bootlegged CDs of music and movies are available daily from street vendors and in flea markets. Some of the fake products are made locally but some comes from other countries. Much of what is pirated are creative efforts produced in the United States and Europe. Music distributors have an active organization here cracking down on pirated merchandise.

Officials will try to build a case against professor and wife
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An elderly professor and his wife have emerged as the only target of an investigation into the influences of Colombian terrorists in Costa Rica.

These are the two persons, Francisco Gutiérrez Pérez, 79, and his wife Cruz Prado Rojas, 52, in whose home authorities found $480,000 in a small safe March 14. The money had been linked to a high official of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.

Colombians march for hostages . . . HERE!

A delegation including Laura Chinchilla, vice president, and Francisco Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor, visited Colombia last week and spoke with Gen. Oscar Naranjo, director of the Policía Nacional de Colombia, and  Mario Iguarán, the chief prosecutor in Bogotá. Both Dall'Anese and Ms. Chinchilla, in separate news releases, said they have been assured that there is no evidence in computers confiscated from a dead terrorist that links any politician or prominent figure here with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.

In fact, Ms. Chinchilla's release quoted a statement by Naranjo at a press conference in Bogotá that said the only Costa Rica connection was a network of supporters consisting of Colombian nationals in Costa Rica. That has been reported earlier. A Colombian newspaper set the number at five to seven.

The executive branch has been aggressive in discounting a suggestion made March 15 by Fernando Berrocal, the
former security minister, that the confiscated computers suggest links with politicians here. Berrocal was fired by President Óscar Arias Sánchez for making that statement.

Colombian troops raided a terrorist encampment just inside neighboring Ecuador March 1 where they killed more than 20 persons including a man identified as Raúl Reyes, the No. 2 leader of the organization. The computers are believed to have belonged to him. E-mails found on the computers led police to the Heredia home.

There was no suggestion in the news releases as to how the prosecutor and Ms. Chinchilla, who is now the acting security minister, will handle the terrorist network here.

However, they did report that they are expecting via diplomatic channels evidence today that may be used against the two Santa Bárbara de Heredia homeowners.

Although the executive branch and Dall'Anese, who works for the courts, are seeking to limit the investigation in Costa Rica, a legislative commission has been empaneled to study the influences of terrorism here. Lawmakers are likely to follow some leads that Ms. Chinchilla and Dall'Anese have not.

Suggesting a link to the terrorists is a serious allegation because the Colombians are deeply involved in drug smuggling and hostage taking for ransom.

Costa Rica, of course, has been a transit point for illegal drugs for years. Although at least one politician has been convicted of drug smuggling in the past, there have been no such cases in the last seven years.

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Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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Colombians march in street
seeking release of hostages

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia has the world's highest kidnapping rate, and in the past 10 years more than 3,000 Colombians have been kidnapped by rebel groups, paramilitaries and common criminals, who use their victims for economic or political gains.  Thousands of Colombians took to the streets in the nation's capital Friday to ask for the release of all hostages.

The protests were sparked by recent news of the critical health condition of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, the presidential candidate who was kidnapped by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia in 2002. She is reportedly suffering from hepatitis B, malnourished and unwilling to live. She is one of at least 700 hostages being held by the terrorists in secret jungle camps.  Three Americans are among them.

The Fuerzas Armadas is Latin America's oldest guerrilla group. Their troops have fought the Colombian state for over 40 years, and their agents sometimes kidnap civilians for economic and political purposes.

In Colombia's capital of Bogotá on Friday, protesters called on the terrorists to release all hostages.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe is not known for making deals with the Fuerzas Armadas, which he considers a terrorist group.  But last week he signed a decree that would allow Colombian courts to release imprisoned guerrillas in exchange for Ms. Betancourt and other political hostages.

The terrorists, however, are seeking political recognition, and spokesmen have rejected the president's proposal, saying that there will be no more hostage releases.

France has sent a medical team to Colombia in an effort to provide treatment for Ms. Betancourt. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that President Nicolas Sarkozy is ready to travel to Colombia with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to help win Ms. Betancourt's release.

Chavez takes over cement firms

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has ordered the nationalization of his country's cement industry. Chávez announced the move during a televised address Thursday. He said the state takeover is needed to ensure businesses produce cement to help build houses in Venezuela, which is facing a housing shortage. He said cement companies will be compensated for the state takeover.

Three of Venezuela's largest cement companies are foreign-owned. Mexico's Cemex controls almost half the local market.

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