26 April 2013 Swindled and Dooped

One of the biggest issues in the north part of Peru is land.  There are basically no titles for property here and, technically, most of the land is owned by the state of Peru who grants oil concession rights to the oil companies.  That’s the bottom line.  The state of Peru, and only the state of Peru, can grant you title and/or possession.

Virtually all of the residents with homes outside of town are hoping for rights of possession.  The reality is that a wanna-be developer stakes out a piece of property and fences it in.  This person may have to defend his “territory” if someone else also claims it.  This conflict arises frequently and can escalate into armed gunfights between claimants.

Yesterday, our neighbors, who have built a 12-14 room hotel, had 30 men arrive at their gate demanding entrance.  The owners of the hotel are in Lima and have left a young woman, Karin, in charge.  She had taken her son into Los Organos to school and was going to return after he was done with his classes.  In her absence, these men had dug and erected fence posts with cement in the ground across one section of the grounds for about 200 yards.  When she returned, they were demanding entrance to the hotel and threatened to rob the place.  She called the police and several friends to provide support.  The police moved down the beach a short distance.  Here they sat for some hours awaiting developments.  The police instructed Karin and her friends to remove the posts and burn them.  From what we were told, a woman who claimed land above the hotel decided to build this fence.  It is assumed that she wanted to take possession, but we don’t know for sure.

Another friend of ours, had a building in Vichayito which he had “bought” from a developer there.  By “bought” I mean he paid this guy money  with the intention of building there.  Doug and I rented a room from Jay for a few months while we were building our house.  Jay is a Canadian, who had moved here with his wife, and who had planned on building a small boutique hotel.  Unfortunately for him, once the initial building was built and they had been here a bit over a year, his wife returned to Canada and never returned.  Jay stayed on for a couple of years and became somewhat of an eccentric character; in some ways a hermit, but always friendly when we would see him in town.  Jay stayed on for another two years (I think) and then decided to go back to Canada.  Now in this time, he had not renewed his visa to be in Peru, so had a huge fine to pay upon exiting the country.  Jay basically walked away from his investment here, returned to Canada and is now driving a pilot car for highway construction.  It has been probably 6 or 9 months since Jay left, and there are now people living in his house, claiming it as theirs.  These hostile take-overs are not uncommon when a home or building has been left empty for a period of time.

As for our situation, we “bought” property rights for $20 per square meter and have about an acre.  We built our house and have now lived here for almost four years.  A little over a year ago, we decided we needed to be sure the property was registered in our name and try to get official possession status.  At that time, we were introduced to a law student, Kelvin, who offered to help us file papers and to confirm that the piece of property we built on was in our name.  In this process, we learned that the land itself belonged to the state of Peru, not the man we “bought” it from.Technically, he had no right to sell it to us.  Thus the swindle went.  In reality, this kind of transaction happens all the time here.  And the only time it is questioned is when the oil companies think there might be oil on the property.

So Kelvin did his thing and we became “contributers” (a nice way to say taxpayers!) and officially recognised as such in the Municipality of Los Organos.  We also understood that he was going to file papers with the public registry in the district of Sullana so that we would be recognized as possessors of the property.  As far as we knew, all was done and we were protected from the capricious designs of the developer who still has land all around us.  At the time we offered to pay Kelvin for his services, but he said he couldn’t accept payment as he was just a student, and he was doing this as a friend.  We did pay all of the expenses he incurred in filing fees, transportation, etc.

Now, more than a year later, Kelvin contacts us and asks that we pay him for his services.  When I reminded him that he had told us his work was gratis, he told me that he didn’t need the money then, but now he does.  He then proceeded to send an account of his expenses for his last year of law school….S/13,800 ($5500)!  I told him we couldn’t afford to pay him this much and that we were not responsible for his expenses.  He continued to harras us over the following couple of months, and we finally offered him S/500.  He argued and pleaded with us for more over such a protracted conversation on Facebook, that I finally told him if he didn’t appreciate the offer than we wouldn’t pay him anything.  Doug posted a note about how crazy this kid is and labeled him a thief and corrupt.  That is when things really got ugly.  Kelvin threatened to sue us for slander and threatened to undue all the paperwork he had done so “we would not own anything.”

As a result, we consulted a well appointed lawyer yesterday.  We took him all our documentation along with a transcript of the conversation I had with Kelvin.  After hearing our story, and reading through the paperwork, this is what he told us.  First, that Kelvin was “insane.” (Up until this point, our entire conversation had been done in spanish…but he used the english word insane and then proceded to talk in english!)  Secondly, that he believed that Kelvin had not done anything beyond getting us registered as taxpayers in Los Organos.  Thus the duped.  Also, he confirmed that Georg didn’t have the right to sell the land to us and so had taken us for a pretty penny.

The lawyer has agreed to look into exactly where we stand as far as the property goes.  Once that is determined, he will make a recommendation to us as to how to proceed.

So, as we contemplate selling the house we now have to face the fact that any prospective buyer, however much they like the house, will not want to buy it because the disposition of the land is in question.

So we continue to live in “paradise” (and it is truly like that….pristine beach, beautiful view, fabulous swimming pool and superb people surrounding us).  What value does that have?  Such a conundrum!

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1 Comment

  1. Oh, my, Karen, what a mess. I already knew about most of this, of course, but I am so sorry that it has not taken a turn for the better yet. Although, talking to this lawyer who seems to know what he is talking about seems an improvement. Thinking of you. Especially today, your birthday. Love you.

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