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These stories were published Monday, June 14, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 116
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1995 law finally having impact
Evictions, now permitted, change face of nation
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Many lawyers have made a fortune over the last year desalojando, or evicting people from their happy homes and businesses because of a change in the rental laws which happened over eight years ago.

Much of the tearing down of buildings you see throughout Costa Rica, especially in the older communities, are also due to these events.

Before 1995 Costa Rica’s rental laws were designed to protect tenants 100 percent, which made it almost impossible for a landlord to throw out even the worst deadbeats or get a fair rental price for the property.  These old laws were created in the early part of the 1900s because the world wars made for a difficult time for most Costa Rican citizens, and the Costa Rican government felt an obligation to protect them.  A stricter law protecting landlords was passed in 1988 but was almost immediately found unconstitutional by the Sala IV, Costa Rica’s constitutional court. So everything went back to the way in was in the old law.

The phrase representing the legal entitlement called derecho de llave, or key right was widely used in Costa Rica.  This legal right was commonly sold representing a tenant’s time in a location.  This was especially important to businesses where a key right could be worth tens of thousands of dollars and in very special cases, hundreds of thousands. 

The new law that changed everything appeared in La Gaceta, Costa Rica’s public records bulletin, Aug. 17, 1995.  This law was almost a complete rewrite of the old law giving important new right to landlords.

Many tenants had rented places for decades. In those cases, the contracts were automatically changed to four-year leases with one more month added to the term for every year a person was in a property — to a maximum of 12 months.  For example, a person renting under the old law for 12 or more years would get an extra year over and above the mandated four-year term.  This meant all old rental contracts ended on Aug. 17, 2000, and turned into rental agreements based on the new law with the legal three-year term, which ended this past Aug. 17.

Since the new law states contracts are automatically renewed if a landlord does not give a tenant at least three months notice, most of the landlords rushed to evict old tenants in the first months of 2003.  This flurry of evictions are now flowing out of the courts as full eviction judgments against old tenants.  But many more are still in court with tenants fervently fighting how they were notified of the eviction.  This is the key legal point to the process.

Most of these evictions have prospered as one can instantly see by driving almost anywhere in Costa Rica and in downtown San José especially 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Slogans like this dot the landscape because now landlords have the right to jack up rents and evict those who won’t pay. This says ‘No eviction without a fight.’

around the areas between Calle 2 and Calle 10. 
Much to the unhappiness of those business owners paying almost nothing in rents for years, their buildings are falling like flies making homes for parking lots and, in some cases, nice, new buildings.

As with most laws in Costa Rica, there are those who try to circumvent the rules.  One new trick is for a renter to lease a place and pay one month’s rent and then stop paying until such time he or she knows the official eviction notice is signed. Then the renter just moves out quickly after months of free rent. 

In this kind of a case, a not too well known legal tactic is to request a judge make an inventory of the rent-avoiding tenant’s belongings in the initial suit and to hold those personal assets as guarantee in the court proceedings.  Since most of these people do not want their TV and boom-box stereo system confiscated, they hit the road quickly without going to the end of the legal proceedings. 

Depending on which side of the fence you are on, landlord or tenant, these new laws which have taken many years to begin to enforce may be good news or bad news.  Whatever your perspective, the laws are changing the face of the country and creating investment and business opportunities for those who have a long-term vision for Costa Rica. 

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides professional services to the international community. He can be reached at info@crexpertise.com. Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review and can be reached at crlaw@licgarro.com.


 
Principal points of revised rental law
Published in La Gaceta, Costa Rica’s public records bulletin, on Aug. 17, 1995: 

1.) A rental contract can be either verbal or written.

2.)  No matter what a contract says, a renter who duly accomplishes the terms of a rental agreement, can stay for three years minimum, no matter what.  If the period of the contract is more than three years, the higher term takes priority.

3.)  At the end of the term, if the landlord wants the rental property back, he or she needs to notify the tenant at least three months before the term expires. Otherwise the term is automatically renewed for another three years or whatever the original term of the contract states.

4.) When property is rented to an individual as a home and in colons, Costa Rica’s currency, the rent amount increases automatically 15 percent every year.  When the rental price is agreed to in any other currency, the automatic increase does not apply. Usually rents are stated in colons or U.S. dollars in Costa Rica but can be negotiated using any worldwide currency.  Businesses can negotiate any payment method and/or yearly adjustments agreeable to both parties.

5.) Public services and utilities are to be 

paid by the tenant except for property taxes, which are the responsibility of the landlord.

6.)  If a property is sold or otherwise transferred it should not impact on the tenant’s rights and the new landlord must respect any existing contract. 

7.)  Any improvements made by a tenant automatically become the property of the landlord.

8.)  A tenant can not change the original agreed upon use of a property.  For example, a home cannot be turned into a pet store nor a pet store into a bar.

9.)  Landlords have the right to inspect their property once a month.

10.) Tenants have the legal right to pay rent up to seven days after it is due.

11.) In negotiating a rental contract, a landlord can request any guarantee deposit they see necessary to protect their interests. 

12.) Tenants can not sub-rent/lease a property. 

NOTE: In any situation where the landlord shares a property with no more than two other rental units which he or she rents, tenant rights are almost non-existent. Any rental agreement can be terminated simply by giving a tenant 30 days written notice.

 
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Two officers wounded
in Alajuela shootout

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Burglars in the Mercado Municipal of Alajuela shot and wounded two reserve police officers late Saturday and then fled.

The two officers were among members of the Fuerza Pública who came to the market after security guards said they believed that one of the stores inside was being ransacked.

The wounded men were identified by officials as Alexánder Sánchez Contreras and Marcos Múñoz Rojas. Sánchez suffered a wound in the chest and Múñoz suffered two bullet wounds in the pelvis, said officers. Both were hospitalized.

Police barricaded the market until dawn when tactical police entered and searched each storefront. But the attackers had vanished.

They’re back to scam
with customized pleas 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nigerian Internet scammers have a couple of new ploys.

One reader received the traditional message saying that some wealthy foreign engineer died in Nigeria and that the dead man had the same last name as the reader.

A.M. Costa Rica later received a request to place a classified ad for a petroleum engineer to work in Nigeria. 

In both cases the messages appeared to be the beginnings of efforts to steal money by creating a lure for the unsuspecting.

The changes in approach suggest that the scammers are becoming more sophisticated and are customizing their messages.

Although the messages mention Nigeria and this type of scam in general is called a Nigerian Scam, the scammers could be anywhere. Recent arrests have taken place in The Netherlands, and the messages are routed through Yahoo e-mail accounts.

Main Coco pot source
said to be woman there

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A  woman who police believe is a principal source of marijuana to tourists in Playas del Coco have been arrested along with two men.

Investigators said the woman, identified by the last name of López, was arrested in the center of the Pacific coast town and that she was a major supplier. Confiscated at the same time was about a kilo (2.2 pounds) of compressed marijuana, officers said.

The arrests were made by the Policía de Control de Drogas. The two men jailed were identified by the last names of Salazar Madrigal and Hurtado Jiménez, said police.

Meanwhile, Saturday at Juan Santamaría Airport, a Costa Rican with the last names of Acuña Hernández was detained with more than two kilos (4.4 pounds) of what anti drug agents said was cocaine. He was headed to London, England.

The 49-year-old man had a suitcase with a double bottom, agents said.

Roadblock nets trio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men stuck up persons in the public right-of-way near the Cubujuqui sector of Heredia late Thursday and fled. Minutes later, three suspects were captured at a Fuerza Pública roadblock in Sabana Norte in San José.

The men, identified by the last names of Chavarría García, Sauletti López and Méndez Mendieta, were in a vehicle that a 911 caller had identified as being involved in the robberies, officers said. Police confiscated 280,000 colons, some $645.
 

Vehicle thefts alleged

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers arrested a man with the name of Santamaría Friday and said he was a suspect in thefts from a number of vehicles near the Macarena Condominiums in Rohmorser.

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Guard goes on rampage and kills two and himself
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A hotel security guard in Santa Barbara de Heredia raided his place of employment Saturday night and took a shotgun. Then he went out and killed two persons and turned the gun on himself.

The man was Cristian Alvarez Bejarano, said police. The crime was considered to be one of passion, although Alvarez failed to kill his former companion.

Dead were the woman’s father, José Luis Chavarria Segura, and Magali Duran Porras, the wife of a man the killer thought was involved with his former companion, said officers.

According to the Fuerza Pública, Alvarez showed 

up at the unspecified hotel and took the shotgun that  was kept at the hotel. He locked up the guards on duty there. Officers said this is what followed:

Alvarez then went to the home of the man he thought was involved with his former companion, but the man was not home. This was in Birrí de Santa Barbara de Heredia about 11 p.m.

Instead, Ms. Duran answered the door, and Alvarez shot her dead. Then he went to the home of the former companion, but she fled. Her father, Chavarria, faced him and died from a shotgun blast.

Alvarez then returned to the scene of the first murder and confronted neighbors who had gathered near the woman’s body. He threatened them but finally turned the weapon on himself.


 
Police move in to physically close Flamingo marina
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas and the Fuerza Pública closed down the Flamingo marina Friday, the latest in the continuing drama of the facility.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said the officers were working under the order of the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo de San José, an environmental body.

Many of the owners who had boats in the facility had been forewarned, but coast guard officers had to tow some boats into the coast guard docks for safekeeping.

For years, environmental officials have claimed that

 pollution, principally fuel oil, was entering the water as a result of the work at the marina.

The Municipality of Santa Cruz had taken over the marina from private operators but fared no better with the environmental agencies. In the works was a plan to issue a new concession for the facility.

Fuerza Pública officers on land and coast guardsmen on the water will keep an eye on the facility to prevent continued use, officials said.

Environmental officials also have expressed concern about waste from boats entering the water.

The proposed concession is on hold until the municipality can bring the marina up to standards, official said.


 
Baker in Barrio Cuba held on child sex allegations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A baker in Barrio Cuba is under investigation of allegations that he was involved in having paid sexual relations with minors.

The Costa Rican man, 49, is being held for three months of preventative detention, said officials. He was arrested by the Unidad Contra la Explotación Sexual del Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública Friday.

Investigators said the man had been under surveillance since the beginning of the year due to a telephone tip from a neighbor.

The man, identified by the last name of Jiménez, 

was arrested in the bakery in Barrio Cuba and it was there police said they monitored continual visits by minors.

Investigators said the arrested man would show the minor girls pornographic material or offer them money for relations with adults.

About 10 girls, all 14 or under, are involved in the case, said officials, and they are expected to give statements.

When officers raided the bakery, they said they found pornographic magazines and videos.

Barrio Cuba is known as one of the poorer in the San José area.


 
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Kidnap suspect left floppy disk that fingered him
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fabio Garnier Fernández, 35, the son of a well-known sports figure, vanished on his way home from work Jan. 16, 2002.

He had left the automobile rental agency where he worked on Paseo Colón en route to the western suburb of Rohrmoser. The last clue investigators have is his car, which turned up in the parking lot of Multiplaza in Escazú.

But thanks to some computer detective work, investigators continue to hold a man they believe was involved in the Garnier kidnapping. He is a 

Colombian with the name of Castillo. He was arrested May 22, 2003, in the El Pueblo commercial center because agents believe he was responsible for a telephoned ransom demand of 40 million colons. That was a bit more than $100,000 at the rate of exchange then.

The Tribunal de Casación Penal last week ordered that he be continued to be held in preventative detention. Investigators said they traced him because he left a floppy disk at a public telephone near the home of the family. Computer experts analyzed the disk and were able to determine that it was used at a certain Internet cafe. This information led to the arrest.


 
Private company runs its own disaster relief effort
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A company in the northeastern state of Connecticut and its employees have airlifted more than 50,000 pounds of emergency supplies to flood victims in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The humanitarian effort grew out of the company's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 

International relief groups have helped to organize emergency supplies for the victims of floods and landslides in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As many as 2,000 people may have died on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island the two small nations share. Hundreds more are missing.

A private company, Diageo, airlifted 56,000 pounds of rice, beans, cooking oil and powdered infant formula to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Diageo executive vice president Guy Smith traveled on the cargo plane and made sure the supplies reached local Diageo employees and aid groups in both nations for distribution. 

"As we speak, our employees in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti are working with Catholic Relief Services in Haiti and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the Dominican Republic, both of whom have a network of clinics through the countries," said Smith. "We are guaranteed that way that the right material gets to the people who need it the most immediately. We leave nothing to chance, particularly in a disaster situation."

Smith says Diageo's humanitarian aid program is aimed at filling in gaps while large relief groups get organized. 

"One of the important things about this type of disaster relief, what we call triage disaster relief, it gets material that is desperately needed in the immediate aftermath of a terrible calamity such as 

the flooding that has occurred in Haiti and the Dominican Republic," he added. "Longer term, the big organizations come in and help people and that is very, very important, but in that window between when a flood or hurricane or earthquake strikes and when the big aid operations can set up and operate, there are people who are exposed. They are in trauma. They are in shock and these kinds of immediate food and supplies help people bridge that terrible gap."

Diageo showed videotapes of the airlift to members of New York's large Dominican and Haitian communities. 

The company began its humanitarian program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when Diageo employees set up a committee to raise money for the victims, which the company then matched, but afterward, Smith says, Diageo employees wanted to do more.

"So we did what we called a Ground Zero to Ground Zero airlift to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we had as part of the team members Diageo employees and New York City firefighters and cops who had worked at Ground Zero. We flew a cargo plane into Bagram Air Base just outside of Kabul within hours after the coalition forces had liberated it from the Taleban and we delivered 100,000 pounds of food to an orphanage in Kabul and then we did the same thing to a children's hospital in Baghdad," he said.

Smith says the humanitarian efforts are a way for the company's employees to reach out to people in need. Diageo markets premium drinks such as Smirnoff vodka, Tanqueray gin, Johnny Walker scotch and Guinness beer. The company has 30,000 employees working in operations around the globe, including a Guinness brewery in Haiti. Its international headquarters is in London, but the North American operation runs out of the state of Connecticut.


 
Olympic torch relayed through Rio in first Latin visit
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil —  The Olympic flame has made a visit to Brazil as it continues its journey around the world before returning to Greece for the Athens Olympics in August. 

Soccer legend Pele had tears in his eyes Sunday as he carried the Olympic flame out of Maracana Stadium here before a cheering crowd in its first ever South American visit. 

Nearly two hours behind schedule, Real Madrid striker Ronaldo carried the torch up on to a stage where he lit an Olympic pyre. There were no major problems during the relay, although the torch's flame went out three times due to the strong winds and had to be re-lit by organizers. 

The global relay continues until July 8. The torch will visit 33 cities in 26 countries and cover about 78,000 kms., some 47,000 miles. The torch will next visit Mexico City.


 
Cuba ready to promote eight new brands of rum throughout world
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba celebrated a "toast to the world" this week at its first International Rum Festival.

The island country introduced eight new rums at the event, held at the famous Morro Castle overlooking the Bay of Havana. 

The Communist state's official news agency said 30 companies from 15 countries were also displaying their rums. The festival, from Sunday to Wednesday, also included conferences, taste tests, music and dancing. 

Cuba's food minister said he thinks all of the new brands could conquer the lucrative U.S. market if the 40-year-old economic blockade is lifted. 


 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Youngsters from the Colegios de Los Guidos, Las Letras, and Liceo José Alvertasi painted this giant mural depicting child labor. It is at Villa Olimpica de Desamparados.
Mural is the star of World Day Against Child Labor
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alarming numbers and a giant mural by children from different schools in Desamparados were the highlights of World Day Against Child Labor at Villa Olimpica de Desamparados Friday.

Officials were there, including Rosalía Gil, director of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia; Christian Ramos of the International Labor Organization; Jeremías Vargas Chavarría, minister of Trabajo, and José Manuel Echandi, defensor de los habitantes.

But the most important particpants were the children and teenagers from Los Guidos, Las Letras and Liceo José Alvertasi, all schools of the Canton of Desamparados. These are the youngsters who painted a giant mural depicting child labor and the theme that education and play are what children should be doing.

According to Vargas, just in Costa Rica every day children are working, most of them girls and most of them invisible to the average citizen because they are in homes doing domestic labors.

Of the estimated 1.1 million children in the country, perhaps 10 percent are engaged in labor to support their families.  The young workers range in age from 5 to 17. Some 66,000 children under 16 are working longer daily hours than allowed and with low salaries and without the usual labor guarantees, he said.

The estimate of girls in domestic labor is about 12,000.

Their education suffers, said Vargas, adding that some 137,000 children are not enrolled in school when they should be and some 25,000 children between 12 and 17 are clearly working instead of studying.

And in some cases these children are subjected to additional abuse.

Millions of children in the world work in exploitive conditions exposed to dangerous labor conditions and abuse, said Ramos. He said his International Labor Organization has the difficult job of trying to halt these exploitive practices, mainly in Guatemala, Brazil and Costa Rica.


 
 
Youngsters get their introduction to electronic votes
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The main idea is to prepare youngsters for future national elections and create faith and confidence in the electronic voting system, according to Cristina Vinocour Vargas, program coordinator of the Tribuno Supreme de Elecciones.

She was at St. Anthony’s School in Guadalupe Friday as part of a new iniciative that involves just 15 schools this year.

At St. Anthony’s, the election was a real one. Two candiates sought the school presidency. But the system provided by the national election commission appeared to be a winner, too.

Saint Anthony students called the effort successful and showed they had enough grounding in technology so that the voting went smoothly. The voting was done on traditional computers using the election tribunal software. After the first electroic votes two year ago, the tribunal made a commitment to the school program.

For  Marianela Castro, professor of educación cuidadana or civics, the most important factor was that the electroic system will make the voting process clean and faster.  It also is the system the 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Members of the school election tribunal at St. Anthony’s plan the election process.

country will used, so that’s why she said it is important to prepare her students. The election tribunal will be increasing the number of school programs. The next national vote will be held in 2006. 


 
We get letters from our readers
She’ll use  a seatbelt

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regardless of Jo's feelings, I am wholeheartedly in support of seat belts. They honestly do save lives. Almost every fatal we saw in the year and a half I was at WYDOT involved a young, unseatbelted male. They are almost always ejected from the vehicle. And most did not die immediately on impact with the ground or fence or other car or guardrail. Some are pinned under their own cars or between their car and an object or another car and an object, where they die slowly while awaiting the EMTs. One lady was actually thrown over a guardrail, but her clothing caught on the rail, so she slowly strangled to death.

It's much more tragic when the person ejected from the vehicle is a child, who is then run over by his or her own family.

People who don't wear seatbelts are truly unaware of the potential consequences. And anyone who voices a fear of being trapped in a car, or whatever it is people say about why they won't wear a seatbelt, has certainly never reviewed seat belt statistics.

Sarah Hogan 
Denver, Colo.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is a former representative of the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
Off by one day

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Once again, Jo has let her propensity for liberal vitriol get in the way of the truth. She states that Mr. Reagan passed away on "the anniversary of D-Day" and then proceeds with her screed. The man who is arguably the greatest president to have served in the 20th Century passed away on June 5, 2004. The last time I checked, D-Day occurred on June 6.

Quite a long way around to slam a man whose policies brought us out of a Jimmy Carter-induced recession and who effectively caused the end of the Soviet Union. 

I think it’s a good thing Jo lives in Costa Rica with it’s socialistic and paternalistic leanings. She can WHINE and take pot shots at her mother country and our conservative icons all she wants. We’re presently in a war, and really don’t need sympathizers of her ilk.

Dan Baber 
Plano, Texas
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