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Water issues obstruct building permits in agricultural subdivisions in Costa Rica


No Building Permits at Municipalities without Water CertificationDo you have a building lot in an agricultural subdivision in Costa Rica? Or maybe you are planning to buy one? If so, you better read this blog, so you can save yourself a lot of headaches later on. 

The fact is that starting September 1st, 2014 if you own a property in Costa Rica and you want to be able to get building permits from the municipality where the property is located, the owner has to get a certification from the water company (carta de agua) that certifies there is water available for that property. If the property already has a house, you don’t have to worry, but as soon as you want to build additional footage to your house, you will need a building permit. 

Most municipalities even go a step further and they oblige you to get that same letter when you request an “uso de suelo”, which is a document that shows what you are able to build on that particular property and it will tell you if the property is residential, commercial or industrial as well as the density (how much construction is allowed).

Water is becoming an issue of life and death in many countries on planet earth and Costa Rica is not so different. Real estate in the Central Valley is booming as never before and hundreds of new communities are popping up everywhere. In most of the regions of the country, water production capacity is close to current demand, so the risk of facing water deficits future is high and, in fact, various cities already suffer from water shortages and rationing. This means that the water supply needs to be regulated and the government is trying hard to do so.


Asada in Horquetas de Sarapiqui

Asada in Horquetas de Sarapiqui


I applaud the fact that many municipalities are getting organized, I’d only wish they would all do the same thing, use the same forms and the same plans and communicate the changes publicly though the press. I hate finding out about things like this after we sold a building lot to a client, the reason for this blog. But municipalities in Costa Rica are autonomous organizations and each likes to re-invent the wheel as most governmental organizations tend to do world-wide. 

For many locations in Costa Rica, it would be A y A (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados), who is in charge of writing that certification or letter for you. In most rural locations, there is no A y A water available and the water is supplied by an “asada”. An asada is a like an association of neighbors or a water coop. Only formally registered condominiums under the condominium law are allowed to have their well registered as being owned and administered by the condominium association. 

The asada has to be registered at A y A and they already have many communities standing in line for approval. This approval can take 6 months due to the amount of applying communities. If you want to start construction, you’d have to wait those 6 months plus the amount of time needed to apply for a construction permit.

In many locations in Costa Rica, like Ciudad Colon, Atenas and in a great many beach areas all over the Pacific coast, developers created subdivisions that were offered and sold as gated communities, but are really nothing more than agricultural subdivisions. Most of those subdivisions where created in the hills, to take advantage of the views those properties offered, where most of the property is steep. Due to the topographical lay-out of the property, building lots in those communities are a minimum of 7,000 m2 or larger (1 ¾ acre), with very few exceptions of 5,000 m2 (1 ¼ acre).

Those subdivisions are known as Fraccionamientos Agricolas. 


Roca Verde in Atenas   Hacienda Atenas in Atenas

Agricultural subdivisions in Atenas

The following subdivisions were constituted as an agricultural subdivision:

  • Montes del Valle – Ciudad Colon
  • Roca Verde – Atenas
  • Lomas del Paraiso – Atenas
  • Hacienda Atenas – Atenas
  • Cerro Luna – Atenas


Columbus Heights in the Central Pacific   Pacific Heights in the North Pacific

Agricultural subdivisions in the Central and North Pacific

  • La Jolla de Bajamar – Orotina
  • Columbus Heights – Jaco
  • Pacific Heights – Flamingo


Costa Verde in the South Pacific   Monte Vista in the South Pacific

Agricultural subdivisions in the South Pacific


  • Costa Verde Estates – Escaleras, Dominical
  • Monte Vista Estates – Ciudad Cortes
  • Costa Developers’ communities – Costa Esterillos, Costa Montaña and Costa Reserva
  • And hundreds of others

Most of those Fraccionamientos Agricolas were developed in very rural areas, away from the cities and with no access to a water supply, so developers installed a well. This well was on land that belonged to the developer and in some cases was donated to the community, in others not. Those wells are mostly run by informal neighbor associations and never bother with forming an “asada” mostly for lack of knowledge. 

Unicamente para Uso Agricola

This survey shows a note that the property is only for agricultural use, which is what you should check for

How can you find out if the land you own doesn’t have to deal with this problem? Check first if your property is located in a condominium or in a Fraccionamiento Agricola or not. The survey of your property might show or not, as seen in the images above. If the property is larger than 5,000 m2 and in a community as I described, better check with the association that administers the water or if you cannot find anyone, with your lawyer. 

This survey shows the property is located in a formal condominium

This survey shows the property is located in a formal condominium


How can you find out if the land you are buying has water from an asada, A y A or doesn’t have availability? Request the property owner or your realtor for a water certification and a uso de suelo.

If you want to sell your land in Costa Rica, get an “uso de suelo” as well as the water letter for your property before you contact a real estate agent.

This property is also an agricultural subdivision but erroneously doesn't show this

This property is also an agricultural subdivision but erroneously doesn’t show this


If you are in the market to purchase land in Costa Rica, check the uso de suelo and the water letter before you put your signature on a purchase – sale agreement and make an earnest money deposit or contact us NOW.

Feel free to leave your comments on this blog.

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Ivo Henfling

If you are looking to buy a home in Costa Rica or invest in a condo anywhere in the central Valley, or looking for any property for sale in Escazu, you need to call me. I have been selling real estate in Escazu for over 20 years and can show you hundreds of happy buyers of real estate in Escazu and other areas. To me, a deal is not a good deal unless both buyer and seller are happy.

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One thought on “Water issues obstruct building permits in agricultural subdivisions in Costa Rica”

  • saber mas

    4 December, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Esto es ¡genial! No he leído algo como esto desde hace mucho . Gratificante encontrar a alguien con algunas ideas nuevas sobre este tema. Este sitio web es algo que se necesita en la red , alguien con un poco de originalidad. Un trabajo útil para traer algo nuevo a Internet. Gracias de todos lo que te leemos.


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