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Rosarito Beach, near the Cantamar development in Baja California. Rosarito Beach, near the Cantamar development in Baja California.

US retirees caught in middle of Baja California land dispute

Residents of development haven't been allowed into their homes for months

Numerous retirees from the United States have lost access to their homes in a luxury coastal community in Baja California due to an escalating dispute with the owner of the land on which it is located.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that barbed wire fencing surrounds most of Cantamar, a beachfront residential development about 25 kilometers south of Rosarito. About 40 residents told the newspaper they have completely lost access to their homes due to actions by Cantamar’s property manager on behalf of the development’s owner, Ivonne Cortéz Avendaño.

According to residents, many of them U.S. citizens, the property manager has blocked access to the development and cut off water and gas to pressure them into paying new maintenance fees. They also say she has refused entry to guests, maintenance workers and even people who live at Cantamar.

“I feel like a prisoner there,” said Robert Boyd, a retired attorney from Arizona. “People have all their money invested in the place, and they’re at their wits’ end. They’ll be damned if they’re going to lose their investments or their life savings.”

Boyd is one of many U.S. citizens who purchased property at Cantamar, where beachfront lots and residences are much cheaper than in nearby San Diego.

The Union-Tribune reported that the owner of Cantamar — Carlos Borja Robles — died in 2007 without a will. After a legal battle between Cortéz, who is Borja’s widow, and his children that lasted for more than a decade, a Baja California appellate court overturned a lower court’s ruling in February 2019 and ordered Borja’s estate to cede the Cantamar development to Cortéz.

According to some residents, including Boyd — who has lived in Baja California for 34 years and is a naturalized Mexican citizen, the judge who made the ruling may have exceeded the power vested in him or her by awarding land to Cortéz that legally belonged to Cantamar residents.

“If the judgment encompasses other people’s titled property, then the judgment is in excess of the judge’s capacity to issue that judgment,” he told the Union-Tribune.

The newspaper said it was unable to reach Cortéz. An email to the property manager, Zarella García, was not returned, and a reporter was refused entry to Cantamar last Tuesday.

Some residents said they have been permitted to live at Cantamar since the 2019 ruling but Cortéz and García are making life increasingly difficult for them.

“I haven’t had running water for years. When we leave, we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to get back in,” said one resident who asked to remain anonymous out of fear he would face retaliation from Cantamar’s management.

Some residents told the Union-Tribune that Cortéz is trying to collect a new US $130 monthly maintenance fee. Others said that she wants back payments of maintenance fees dating back more than a decade.

“The obligation to pay maintenance is not included in my title, nor was it included in the title of the previous owner, and there is no separate contract that obligated the former owner, and now me, to pay maintenance,” Boyd said.

Dr. Mike Welch, a physician from San Diego, said he has been denied entry to his residence in for months.

“People who live there are not able to use the house they have been enjoying for many, many years,” he said. “There have even been altercations at times at the entry gate between security personnel and residents and visitors trying to get in.”

United States authorities have no legal power to intervene in property disputes involving U.S. citizens in Mexico. As the Union-Tribune noted, “the chances of winning a fight in the Mexican legal system are slim and the process can drag on for decades.”

“Who is going to spend a lot of money in court and wait 10 years?” Boyd said. “Most people [the residents of Cantamar] are older, and in 10 years where are they going to be?”

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune (en) 

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