By Harriet Murray ● Cochran Real Estate ● June 2015
A country’s relationship to its land is shaped by its culture and it’s past. Mexico’s view of land and ownership is distinct from its two neighbors in North America: Canada and the USA.
In Mexico, there is a strong tradition of passing on the family property to heirs. Property is not a commodity, it is a legacy. This sense of legacy we see more often in Europe and South America. In the US, and not sure about Canada, real estate is more of a commodity to be “traded up” frequently. When I was working in the US, we used 7 years as the average time a family owned a home before they sold and moved.
Statistics show that Mexican nationals who live and work in other countries buy a home in the homeland in anticipation or retirement or to visit frequently. Easter Europeans have also bought homes in their homelands which existed before Russia became a nation of combined states and influenced other countries near its mighty presence.
Mexico was a farming and ranching economy for hundreds of years and we still see symbolic ties to the music, costume, symbols of that era. Animal themes are frequent in the folk lore and indigenous traditions such as the Huichol. The majority of the population is mestizo who has deep roots in the tradition of land as the center of life. This tie to the land affects the cultural, political and legal differences which help define a country.
The meaning of “title of property” may be different. Historically possession of the land was most important. A properly recorded deed was nice, but not absolutely necessary. If the patriarch expected that he would pass his property onto his heirs who would continue to occupy and care for it, then “title” became less important. This long range view may be foreign to transient Americans whose family long ago lost ties with the land. Many moved into the city and began careers which never sent them back to the land.
Historically there has been the mistrust by Mexican citizens of their government. To involve the government in any way with property rights was not the preferred choice. To avoid government was to avoid interference. If there were tax advantages to not having a recorded title, it was an added benefit.
“Ownership” of Mexican lands has been influenced from a socialist perspective and not from capitalism. Ejido land is a good example. During land reform by President Lazar Cardenas in the 1930’s, ejido land was created. Foreign owned lands were confiscated and peasant cooperatives were created. Ejidos were lent large parcels of land for agricultural purposes. Ejidos were not originally given the right to sell their property. Members could rent the land or sell the use of rights.
Foreigners renting ejido land might think they had stronger rights than they did. Heirs could change the relationship their parents formerly had with the renter. Rents could increase to what the ejido believed was the amount they wanted that year, irrespective of what had been charged the previous year.
Socialist traditions influence the legal concept of possession of land. Untended land may fall into the hands of squatters who take possession. If the owners of the land do not dispute the rights of the squatters for a period of time, squatters may become the owners of the land they occupy.
Fencing and guarding of private land became a common practice to avoid invasion by squatters. Squatter rights were common problems in the little populated parts of the country until the mid 1980’s. There was a political risk to openly offending the invaders, even though the government may be sympathetic to property owners. This dichotomy created anger and unrest.
To be continued
This article is based upon legal opinions, current practices and my personal experiences in the Puerto Vallarta-Bahia de Banderas areas. I recommend that each potential buyer or seller of Mexican real estate conduct his own due diligence and review.