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These stories were published Monday, April 11, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 70
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Legal technique gives landlords a boost
How not to tie up your rental for a 3-year term
By Garland M. Baker 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Owning property in Costa Rica comes with many decisions.  One is whether to rent or not to rent when one is away for long periods. 

Rental laws are very clear.  Any contract automatically gives a renter a three-year rental term.  No contract, no matter how well written, can change the law.  The renters law, Ley de Inquilinato, specifically protects renters regarding term as well as in many other areas.  Rent is synonymous with lease involving real property. There is no difference under the law.

The fact that the rental term cannot be changed is a problem for many people.  Most property owners prefer to take advantage of rental income when planning a lengthy trip.  However, owners do not necessarily want to stay away three years at a time.

Commercial real estate owners are in the same proverbial boat when renting such property.   There are many reasons a three-year rental period can be a hardship.  One example is if there is a lucrative potential sale possible.

In addition, any buyer of property must respect any rental contract in place at the time of purchase.  Most buyers are not aware of this fact.  This is true even if the property is obtained in a foreclosure.

Is it legally possible to get around this law regarding rental term should one really need to do so?

Yes, there is a creative solution to the problem.

Some ways that do NOT work are: 1) not signing a contract or 2) using a trusting handshake.  Any type of rental receipt including ones written on bubble gum wrappers are considered sufficient evidence a rental contract exists.  As for a trusting handshake, well a man’s (or woman’s) word just is not as good as it used to be.
This material belongs to A.M. Costa Rica
Here is the secret:  Transferring the usufruct right to another person or company for a desirable shorter term and then let that person or entity make the rental agreement.

Now if one wants to flit off to Australia for one or two years and rent the house in Costa Rica to help pay the expenses, it can be done.  A commercial real estate owner can rent a property for a shorter period, so if a buyer comes on the scene, the sale would not be lost because the new buyer has to wait three years to get rid of a tenant.

What is usufruct?

Usufruct is a legal term from the Roman Empire (in Latin, usufructus), meaning "using the fruit."  It is the legal right to use or profit from another's property.
This material belongs to A.M. Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s Civil Code allows the owner of a usufruct of property the right to rent it, but any rental or lease agreement is only valid for whatever the term of the usufruct.  This is true no matter what a rental contract states.

Article 23 of the Renters Law specifically 

One does not have to be a bad guy

regulates this fact.  Here is the text of the law translated into English:

The holder of a usufruct can rent a property, all or in part, in accordance with the conditions and term of the holders usufruct right. The last lines of Article 23 state:  A rental contract to the contrary is void.

For this creative rental scenario to work, it is mandatory the usufruct right is registered at the National Registry.  To do so is not expensive and easy to accomplish using a professional who understands the process.

This all may sound complicated and not worth the effort, but in fact it is not rocket science or brain surgery and is truly easy to achieve.

The only real trick is finding an adequate legal professional who really understands the law and the benefits. 
This material belongs to A.M. Costa Rica
Benefits can include significant tax advantages where rent payments can be captured in companies losing money to reduce tax debt.  This additional element reduces one's options even more when looking for a competent professional.   In Costa Rica accountants usually know little to nothing about law, and lawyers know about the same about accounting.

In summary, there are creative, legal and tax effective ways to limit rental terms in Costa Rica using usufruct rights of ownership, so a tenant has to leave when the owner wants him or her to leave.  It is not necessary to be a "bad guy" when renting property here, just a smart one.
  
Garland M. Baker is a 33-year resident of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at crlaw@licgarro.com.  Copyright 2005. Use without permission prohibited.

 
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Our readers write

Personal safety is key
to tourism success

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I'm shocked to read this morning about banditos on the road down to Nosara.  Of most concern was the line "A month ago, one Nosara traveler reported, the gunmen stuck up a car full of tourists and stripped them of all their belongings." A MONTH ago!!!!!! 

This is huge news. This is a Guatemala'esqe robbery and tourists deserve to know.  For example, just two weeks ago, a caravan of very good friends of mine decided to go visit properties and such on the Peninsula.   I specifically told them, just get to Tamarindo, chill out, and slowly head south to Mal Pais and Montezuma, making sure you stop by the beaches of Nosara. I told them the road has ALWAYS been safe.  Now I read different.

Well, luckily the trip was postponed until this Friday and I'm for sure going to change their travel route.

One month ago, a whole van load of TOURISTS!!  This is huge news but I guess the five-o in San Jose will wait until they hold up an important Tico, then they'll dispatch a few dudes with bikes and old guns to skillfully hunt down these banditos?

I can't impress enough on the people of CR that crime, or more important, the impression of danger, will kill the tourism trade.  Look at Guatemala, Columbia, Venezuela. They all have rainforests, wonderful beaches, splendid indigenious culture sites that CR doesn't have, but they all have crime.  The one caveat is that CR is already getting EU expensive, if it gets dangerous, we'll start going back to EU or the Caribe to vacation or retire.   Or, some may go to way cheaper Guatemala or Nica, if the crime is the same.  Why not?

All other resources the same, LOW CRIME and the feeling of safety has always been the largest draw to the country.  All the above mentioned countries have the natural resources and more in some cases than CR, they just have higher "danger" rates, but they are far more sophisticated in capturing, if they want to.

CR, don't think you are so special that if crime increases, tourists will continue to flock your way.  They absolutely won't and for sure will spend the $ in another warm, safe place.

If Colombia or Venezuela made a serious effort to wipe out crime in "tourist" areas, imagine the diversity of beaches and cultural sites!!!!   Did you know Colombia has the largest coastal hardwood rainforest in the world.  Mountains drop into the Caribe.  When that gets at least as safe as CR, we are gone.

Watching closely,
 

Jim Guyton 
Hood River, Ore.


EDITOR’S NOTE; We strongly agree with Mr. Guyton. The newspaper has brought the situation in Nosara to the attention of the director of the Judicial Investigating Organization. As yet, there has not been an official reply. But the newspaper will continue trying to live up to one of its mandates: the protection of life and property of expats here.

Parents will return
to seek missing son

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The parents of an Australian tourist missing in Tamarindo are coming to Costa Rica to resume the search.

The tourist, Brendan Dobbins, 24, vanished after last being seen taking an early morning walk March 4 on the beach at the Pacific tourist resort community.

The man’s father, Brian Dobbins, already spent time in Tamarindo looking for his son and then returned home.

A Melbourne, Australia newspaper reported earlier today that the couple would leave Saturday for a trip to Costa Rica.

The newspaper quoted the father as saying: "We are a family hanging on to hope he is still alive."

Dobbins was taking classes at the University of Florida and came to Costa Rica with classmates on spring break.

Woman tells police
of abuse in hotel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men, including one U.S. citizen, face a rape charge after a 29-year-old woman said they threatened her with a knife, beat her and abused her.

The Fuerza Pública made the arrests early Friday. They identified the U.S. citizen by the last name of Paley and said he was 29. The second suspect is a Russian with the last name of Zlotin, said officials. He is 39, they added.

The crime is alleged to have happened within a room of a downtown hotel. Officials did not identify the hotel, but another source said it was the Morazán on Avenida 1 at Calle 7.

The full circumstances of the case are not available. The hotel is a place of lodging for many foreign tourists.

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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La Llorona ends up as a key figure in this Tico saying
Más perdido que el chiquito de Llorona

"More lost than the child of the crying woman." This is sometimes modified to más perdido que el chiquito de Lindburgh, making reference to the child of famed American pilot Charles A. Lindburgh, whose 2-year-old child was kidnapped from the family home near Hopewell, New Jersey, in 1932. In any case, the meaning of the expression seems clear, and we might use it to refer to that missing set of car keys that never turns up. 

But, today’s dichois perhaps more interesting because it traces its origins back many centuries probably to the time when the Moors ruled the Iberian peninsula, and was, of course, subsequently brought to Latin America by the Spanish conquistadores.

The legend of La Llorona, tells of a young woman who temporarily loses her mind after giving birth (what today we would understand to be post partum syndrome). In her madness the woman leaves her newborn child on the bank of a river. When she comes to her senses, and realizes what she has done, she begins frantically to search for her child. 

But she is doomed to search the world over because she cannot remember by which river she abandoned the baby. The fruitless search causes la Llorona to once again lose her mind and she is condemned to wander the world’s river banks for all eternity weeping and wailing as she goes. 

When we were kids, and this legend was told to us for the first time, the implication always was that La Llorona had done something terribly wrong in order to merit such a fate. The vague implication then was that her child had been born out of wedlock. But rather than frighten me, like such ghostly figures from children’s cuentos are designed to do, I only felt sorry for La Llorona. 

When I grew up and learned that many women suffer from post partum syndrome after childbirth, La Llorona’s fate seemed to me all the more cruel. She appears such a lonely, wretched creature. Where was human compassion? Where was the child’s father when La Llorona needed him?

Because it’s a legend, we are free to speculate a bit: Since it has always pretty much taken two people to make a baby, where is daddy? What if La Llorona had been raped? The legend only tells us about this woman’s misery, and nothing about how she came to be pregnant in the first place. Why isn’t the father helping La Llorona to search for their child? 

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

Maybe La Llorona was the victim of incest. After all, her family never comes up in the legend either. Neither her father nor her mother is helping La Llorona to find her baby. The legend is squarely based in the old-fashioned notion that when a woman becomes pregnant she is somehow culpable. 

The very word for "pregnant" in Spanish is rooted in this tradition. It is embarazada, which means "embarrassed or perplexed," though the antique notion of female culpability in pregnancy is certainly not limited to Spain. There are so many questions that nowadays come to mind that never would have occurred to the originators of the legend of La Llorona 600 or 700 years ago. Apparently we have made some progress after all. 

The story of La Llorona came to mind the other day when I was thinking about my high school days, and I remembered an incident where the mother of one of my classmates came to talk to the priest who was also the principal of our school. Father Juan is one of the figures from my youth that I still admire most, and perhaps this story will give you some idea as to why. 

My classmate’s mother was very distraught and came to tell Father Juan that she was going to fire her maid because the girl had become pregnant. The mother believed that her two daughters would be exposed to a bad example if she allowed the maid to remain in the house during her pregnancy. 

To this Father Juan replied with a question: How would abandoning the young girl to the streets to face homelessness and hunger, resulting perhaps even the loss of her baby, be setting a better example for the woman’s daughters? There are, after all, no "illegitimate" children.


 
One decision but two different points of view
Internet gambing decision clouded by smoke, posturing 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The decision on online gambling by the appeals body of the World Trade Organization was embraced by both sides of the dispute, the United States and the tiny Antigua and Barbuda island nation.

The Appellate Body issued a complex report that is a perfect vehicle for public relations posturing and propaganda. At the core of the dispute is the future of Internet gambling in the United States.


An analysis on the news


Antigua and Barbuda greeted the decision Thursday with a glowing press release issued by its London public relations firm:

"The World Trade Organization (WTO) appellate body today upheld a ruling in favour of Antigua in the trade dispute with the U.S. regarding cross-border online gambling. This is a landmark victory for Antigua as the first, and smallest, WTO member to defeat the United States, the largest member, in this well-respected international trade court."

But the United States quickly countered with its own claim to victory:

"The United States won an important victory today when the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body sided with the United States on key issues in a challenge to U.S. laws on internet gambling."

Government officials in Antigua and Barbuda were astounded by the U.S. claims and caused their public relations firm to issue yet another release:

"Antigua today expressed surprise at claims of victory by U.S. trade representatives in the online gaming WTO case between the two countries."

The truth seems to be somewhere between the smoke sent up by both sides.

The Appellate body did uphold a lower panel decision that said the United States violated international trade rules by restricting access to gamblers by firms in Antigua.  By extension, this ruling applies to Internet gambling and sportsbook operations in every other country.

But the Appellate Body also agreed that the U.S. 

gambling laws protect public order and public morals.  Acting  U.S. Trade Representative Peter F. Allgeier gave the impression in a press release that minor tinkering with U.S. law would bring it into conformity to what the Appellate Body sought. But the position of Antigua seems to be closer to the mark.

The Appellate Body recommended that the World Trade Organization cause the U.S. laws to be brought in conformity with international agreements, said Mark Mendel, lead legal counsel for Antigua. "The ruling also notes that, in effect, the U.S. laws discriminate against foreign commerce," he said. "Unless the U.S. wishes to repeal all of its laws that currently permit any form of domestic remote gambling and adopt laws to affirmatively prohibit it in all forms countrywide, then they will have to provide Antiguan online gaming companies fair access to the U.S. market." 

The United States and the George Bush Administration have been fighting vigorously against online gambling. Justice Department lawyers and local prosecutors have leaned on U.S. credit card companies to eliminate the use of that source of money for offshore gambling firms.

The U.S. government also has tried to discourage Internet advertising of gaming operations on U.S.-based Web pages and in Internet search engines.

Costa Rica is a major location for such online sportsbooks and gaming companies. So the Appellate Body ruling is important here, too.

The United States is faced with the growing popularity of Internet gambling as well as individual states that want to get into the game. Nevada already has passed an Internet gambling law.

The U.S. concerns are not without reason. Some of the Internet operations offshore are owned or controlled by criminal elements. Plus there is no reporting of winnings to U.S. tax authorities. 

The Bush Administration is strongly free trade, so the government’s position on Internet gambling seems to run counter to those policies. Some U.S. concerns are philosophical and rooted in the belief that gambling is immoral.

By claiming a blanket victory, the United States government has at least clouded the issue and gained ground for a possible Round Two against Antigua and Barbuda.


 
In case you missed it:
A.M. Costa Rica, April 5, 2005
Our readership more than doubles in one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica set another readership record in March when the newspaper registered 2.16 million hits. That was a 22.9 percent increase over February and a 106 percent increase over March 2004, the first month the newspaper exceeded a million hits.

Other statistics had similar increases.

Some 397,368 individual pages were viewed by 99,351 readers. And 45,435 of those readers were registered as unique, which means they were only counted once regardless of how many times they visited the pages in a single day. 

The statistics are maintained by the Internet service provider in the United States where A.M. Costa Rica is hosted. The hosting company keeps track of visits independent of A.M. Costa Rica.

The statistical programs screen out hits and visits by mechanical means, other computers and automated Web crawlers.

The statistics show that the average viewer sees about four pages at every visit to the paper. 

Said Jay Brodell, editor:

"Our dramatic increase in readership over the last three and a half years is no surprise to our advertisers who are getting more and more business from the wave of retirees and would-be retirees who are looking at Costa Rica as a new home and need solid, daily information.

"It’s a new world, and our progressive advertisers recognize that."

A.M. Costa Rica statistics are available on a page that is updated every month HERE!


 
Big fire in La Uruca forces police to close autopista
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The biggest fire in years lit up the sky near the Autopista General Cañas in La Uruca Friday night. Gutted was a two-story building owned by Corporación Inmobiliaria Lagos.

No one was injured seriously in the blaze, but flames soared hundreds of feet into the air. Police closed off both lanes of the autopista, and fire reinforcements 

were called in from Heredia and Alajuela.

Office space in the building was sublet to several businesses, including a local office for Hotel Villa Playa Sámara.

More than 150 firemen participated in quelling the blaze. Firemen used a snorkel to rain water down on the flaming center of the structure, said to be 10,000 square meters.


 
Costa Rican foreign minister on a bittersweet trip
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and wire service reports

Roberto Tovar Faja, the Costa Rican foreign minister, left for Washington Saturday to attend the meeting today of the Organization of American States and the election of a new secretary general.

The trip is a bittersweet one for Tovar, who worked hard to win the post for former Costa Rican president Miguel Ángel Rodriguez Echeverria.  Rodriguez had to step down in October to face corruption charges at home.

And Costa Rica’s preferred candidate, former 

Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, has withdrawn his candidacy. Flores' decision to step aside Friday leaves two candidates in today’s election: Chilean Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez. 

Flores said he wanted to avoid splitting regional votes with Mexico's candidate, Derbez. Costa Rica's Tovar is expected to support the Mexican candiate in the initial round of voting.

The United States, which endorsed Flores' candidacy, says it respects his decision. A State Department official says Washington will consult with its hemispheric partners to elect the best possible candidate. 


 
Mexican newspaper exec gunned down in Veracruz
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VERACRUZ, México — Unidentified gunmen on Mexico's Gulf coast have shot to death the news director of one of the most influential newspapers in Veracruz. The case is the second shooting of Mexican journalists in one week.

Authorities Saturday say four assailants gunned down Raul Gibb Guerrero, director of the La Opinion newspaper, while he was driving his vehicle Friday in northern Veracruz.

Earlier this week, radio reporter Guadalupe Garcia Escamilla was shot several times in Nuevo Laredo, near Mexico's border with the United States. 

Ms. Garcia was last reported to be in serious condition.

The two attacks come amid reports of a missing journalist in northern Mexico. The media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, has called on authorities to investigate the disappearance of Alfredo Jimenez Mota, who was last seen April 2.


 
Da Silva for promoting democracy but against U.S. embargo on Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ROME, Italy — Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says he plans to work for democracy in Cuba and against the U.S. economic embargo on the Communist-run island. 

President da Silva made the comment following a meeting here in Rome with Cuban national assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon. The two 

officials met at Brazil's embassy Friday after attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Da Silva said his country must help in the fight against the U.S. economic embargo, saying that Brazil has a chance to help restore normal relations for Cuba.

Washington has consistently defended the four-decade-long embargo against Cuba, saying it is a necessary part of the strategy to liberate the island.


 
Japanese minister says Argentina is not cooperative in resolving default
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

OKINAWA — Japan's finance minister has criticized Argentina over its debt restructuring scheme, saying the South American nation has not negotiated in good faith with its creditors.

Sadakazu Tanigaki offered the criticism Sunday during the Inter-American Development Bank annual meeting here on the island of Okinawa. 

Buenos Aires has offered to swap more than $100 million of its old, defaulted bonds for new bonds with different terms. But Tanigaki says the fact that only 76 percent of creditors have accepted the new terms, and that Argentina offered no alternatives, indicates a lack of cooperation from Buenos Aires. Argentina went into default in December 2001, triggering an economic collapse that left more than half the country in poverty.

In other news from the annual meeting, Latin America enjoyed robust economic growth last year, but the Inter-American Development Bank warns that several factors could reverse that trend in 2005.

Latin American nations' overall economic growth was 5.5 percent in 2004, thanks to China's increasing demand for raw materials, including steel, said the Inter-American Development Bank.  However, Beijing has taken several steps to slow its economy, which grew by 9.5 percent last year, which the bank says will have an immediate effect on global trade and the price of commodities.

In addition to a possible economic slowdown by China, the Inter-American Development Bank says, rising U.S. interest rates and a falling dollar could affect Latin America, where many countries already have massive levels of public debt.


 
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