San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

National Registry Out to Map Entire Country

The National Registry has a vision of going where no one has gone before, taking on literally uncharted territory to create a comprehensive land registry of Costa Rica’s entire territory.

This “very ambitious and very important” project, which has been under way for several years, involves using aerial photographs taken in 2004 by the U.S. Air and Space Administration (NASA) to create a detailed map of the country and then send topographers out to measure every property in Costa Rica to make sure it matches National Registry records, National Registry Director Dagoberto Sibaja told The Tico Times.

“Nothing like this has ever existed in Costa Rica. The benefits are multiple, and the most fundamental one for (the National Registry) is legal security,” Sibaja said, explaining that a national land registry would make it impossible for land to be bought and sold fraudulently and prevent other inconsistencies such as a plot of land being titled two or three times. Additionally, the completed land registry would be available to all government institutions and municipalities to use in planning for public services and taxation.

The creation of this catastro nacional, or national land registry, is being partly financed by a $92 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

These funds will cover the next phase of the project, sending topographers to most cantons of the Caribbean province of Limón; Heredia, north of San José; Cartago, east of San José; and the northwestern Guanacaste province. Two companies, Telespazio and Novatecni, have been contracted to visit every piece of property in these areas, Sibaja said. They’re expected to begin July 30 and complete the monumental task of surveying 600,000 to 800,000 properties within two years.

Landowners in these areas can expect a National Registry topographer to knock on their doors sometime during this period.

Information campaigns are in the works to inform the public about this process and encourage landowners to welcome topographers onto their properties to do their work.

When topographers return from the field with completed surveys, they will be processed by a special “Validation” department comprised of 50 topography students from the National University (UNA) charged with the task of verifying that all information obtained matches National Registry records. Properties that clear this test will be entered into a centralized database.

What happens if a topographer’s findings don’t match up with those in the National Registry? A “Cleanup” Department, manned by 20 lawyers, will be set up at the National Registry to get to the bottom of such cases. This department is expected to be running by August.

“The idea is to clean up the information.

If two parties are in conflict over a piece of property, they can either resolve it using resources from this department or resolve it themselves through the judicial system,” Sibaja said. Until disputes are resolved, the properties in question will be “frozen,” unable to be sold or mortgaged until the dispute is straightened out.

“This will give us the great security of knowing who every little piece of land belongs to … of knowing exactly where our national parks and special zones like indigenous territories lie,” he said. “It will give investors the very important security of knowing that their property is well determined and outlined.”

One glitch that’s arisen in this grand project is that the National Registry lacks funds to survey areas of the country not listed above, including in the San José province; Alajuela, north of San José; and the Pacific Puntarenas province.

“When the budget runs out, we’ll have to look for more resources, but at least we will be very far along in the process,” Sibaja said, explaining that seeking another loan from IDB or another international agency and coming up with funds within the National Registry are possibilities. Costa Rican law and the terms of the loan mandate that an independent body under the Housing Ministry, in coordination with the National Registry, is responsible for managing and securing money for the project.

Another pending task is taking detailed aerial photos of the country’s urban areas, including San José, before sending topographers there. This could be completed by next year, weather pending; clear skies are crucial, Sibaja explained.

Sibaja acknowledged that creating such a detailed registry of Costa Rica is a “very ambitious” project, and wouldn’t venture to guess when it will be completed.

But when it all comes together, it will have “an unlimited number of benefits, providing much valuable information that will allow the country to develop,” he said.


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