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Many new buyers may want to develop their Costa Rican land acquisitions. Regardless of whether the development plan is for a family vacation home, condominium complex, or hotel, the owners of Costa Rican development properties must consider the steps they need to take before they can start building. One of these steps is to obtain a building permit from the municipality where the property is located.

Costa Rican regulations require that every individual or corporation wishing to build on a property they own must comply with basic requirements established by Ley de Construcciones, Law number 833. This law specifies that the municipalities “are the ones in charge so that cities and other populations adhere to the required conditions for safety, health, comfort, and beauty along their public roads and the buildings and constructions built on their lands.” 

Therefore, the municipalities are responsible for authorizing and issuing building permits for every construction project that complies with the regulation and due process.

The real estate owner must submit a formal request to the municipality with jurisdiction, providing the mandatory and essential documentation required. This may vary based on whether a master plan — plan regulador — is approved or not for the county. However, the main requirements that must be fulfilled are as follows.

  1. Blueprints of the project: The graphic design of the project must be provided to the municipality in a format duly approved by the Federated College of Engineers and Architects (CFIA) and containing the essential and required technical and legal information. Hence, the governing architect or engineer can review the project.
       
  2. Certificate of Cadastral map: This is issued by the National Registry for the cadastral map of the property where the project will be built. It must be “visado,” which means that the municipality has previously accepted that said cadastral plan has no issues with its municipal cadastral system.
     
  3. Property title certification: Issued by the National Registry or a CR notary public, this certificate contains the legal description and information of the property.
     
  4. Copy of the property owner’s ID: The land owner, if a corporation or trust, must submit a corporate legal certification, Personeria Juridica and a copy of the corporate legal representative’s ID.
  5. Zoning Letter (Uso de Suelo): It indicates what is allowed to be built on the property and any limits or restrictions imposed.
     
  6. Municipal Good Standing Certificate: This confirms that all municipal real estate taxes and services are paid and current.
  7. The real estate value declared before the municipality is updated and, within five years of the last update value form submitted and approved.
     
  8. SETENA environmental agency approval: Based on the project’s size, location and ecological impact, it will be the environmental viability process to be followed (D1 or D2) to obtain SETENA approval.
     
  9. Costa Rican Social Security (CCSS) good standing certificate: Many municipalities will accept the digital certificates issued by the CCSS website.
  10. Water availability letter: This is issued by the AyA (Aqueducts and Sewers, an ASADA if managing the local water system on behalf of the AYA), or by the Water Department of MINAE (Environment and Energy Ministry) should the water come from approved and registered wells, natural springs, or rivers. The letter must certify that the property has water availability sufficient to sustain a built structure and its needs.

If there is no existing public water supply or infrastructure, but the property may have or be adjacent to a well, spring, or river, this does not constitute a legally recognized water supply required to obtain a building permit. A water concession must have been granted in favor of the land owner, defining the specific cubic meter usage necessary for their particular building project.

 

  1. Availability of infrastructure to receive sewage and greywater discharge: To comply with this requirement, the land owner must provide a document certifying that wastewater can be directed to existing sewage infrastructure. Otherwise, you will need to apply for a wastewater location permit from the Health Ministry.

    Depending on the scale and location of the building project, there may be instances where the municipality will require a hybrid septic tank system which incorporates sewage treatment or an actual sewage treatment plant in place of a septic tank. In case of a septic tank installation, submit a soil filtration and absorption test showing that the land is suitable for septic tank installation.
  2. Electricity availability letter: This is issued by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) or the electricity company that manages the service where the property is located, certifying that the property has access to electricity for its basic needs. In some areas of Guanacaste it will be Coopeguanacaste.
  3. National Insurance Institute (IN) certificate: confirming the obligatory Workers’ Risk Insurance policy payment.
  4. Payment of the building permit fee to the municipality: The fee is 1% based on the assessed value assigned to the project by CFIA.

In many instances, the municipality may ask for additional documents subject to the property’s location or specific land characteristics. Among the most common other requirements are:

  1. Approval from the Cultural and Patrimonial Center of the Culture and Youth Ministry of Costa Rica: This is necessary if the property has been declared of national or cultural interest.
  2. Fluvial alignment issued by the Housing and Urbanism National Institute (INVU): This applies if the property is located close to a water source such as a river or a creek.
  3. Road alignment issued by the Public Works and Transportation Ministry (MOPT): This is required when the property has public road frontage or in cases where properties have restricted access.
  4. Terrestrial Maritime Zone certificate approval: This is needed when properties are located close to, or partially inside, the ZMT restricted area.

It is essential to consider that the municipality’s specific requirements for the building permits will depend on the proposed project’s specifics. Remember that the architect or engineer in charge of your building project will be able to provide guidance and assistance with the required documents — they are professionals with expertise in this matter. 

We always advise our clients to hire a reputable and licensed contractor, engineer and architect with a track record, so they can verify and visit the project the professionals have built and talk with the land owners to get their feedback working with them.

We at GM Attorneys will be pleased to help you with your legal matters in Costa Rica! Please feel free to contact us at info@gmattorneyscr.com or visit our website and blog section at https://www.gmattorneyscr.com/gm_website/html/blog.php

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