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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate bill aims to make housing more accessible

Sen. José Vargas Vidot

By The Star Staff

Independent Sen. José “Chaco” Vargas Vidot has filed Senate Bill 1164, a measure that seeks to reduce the terms of usurpation of real estate in order to make housing more accessible.

Vargas Vidot said events such as hurricanes Irma, Maria and Fiona, earthquakes, and even rising rental and sale prices reflect the need for a bill that reduces the terms of usurpation of real estate.

“There is a housing crisis that has caused gentrification, and that crisis is intimately related to housing [units] that, because they do not have ownership, instead of passing directly to those who inhabit them, become part of the catalog of speculators,” said Vargas Vidot, who authored the bill. “We have seen for years how FEMA has denied essential aid due to lack of ownership that can be resolved with this bill. I believe that it is time to validate the natural right that a person should have by family line or occupation, and begin in this way to prevent the crisis of homelessness that plagues the country.”

At present, the usurpation of a real estate property can be finalized after 10 years of being in good faith with fair title, known as the ordinary manner, and after 20 years in an extraordinary way, without just title, also called “bad faith.” The latter had been 30 years, but changes to the Civil Code in 2020 reduced that term to 20 years recognizing that, as a common mode of acquisition of housing in Puerto Rico, such an extensive term is not accessible to island residents.

Even so, the waiting time to acquire title to the property depends on the manner in which the property or land was obtained and whether the terms elapsed as of Nov. 28, 2020, the date on which Puerto Rico’s new Civil Code went into effect. The change in 2020 was specifically in recognition of the problems represented by abandoned houses and with the intention of protecting those who dedicate effort and money to refurbish them in order to provide shelter for their families.

However, the time reduction has done little, Vargas Vidot said, since the term of 20 years is almost unattainable and the reduction was made prospectively, so he sees the need to reduce it even more, to 10 years, so that it becomes accessible and does not deprive thousands of island families of decent housing.

Likewise, the term of the usurpation of real estate in an ordinary way would be reduced to five years under the legislation.

“This has the same purpose, that the right to housing is a true one, and not a privilege,” the senator said, noting that the right established should the measure become law would apply retroactively to people who are currently complying with the terms of usurpation.

Vargas Vidot noted that such a reduction in the terms of usurpation has already been seen in other jurisdictions in Latin America. For example, in Colombia, Article 2529 of its Civil Code provides for ordinary usurpation whereby for real estate, the term will be five years to complete the acquisition. Meanwhile, the extraordinary one, according to Article 2532 of the Colombian Civil Code, requires the fulfillment of possession of 10 years. The senator added that as recently as 2002, the statutes were amended to reduce the terms of both usurpations.

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