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#503638 - 04/24/15 04:27 AM Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,631
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

British Couple Bought Beachfront, Ended Up Facing Someone’s Back Yard

Seafront property - whether on an island or the mainland, it's the most precious and valuable land anywhere in the world - and Belize is no different. But, there's only so much of it - and as Will Rogers said, "God isn't making any more." So the pressure to get the very few parcels that are out there is intense - and now that urgency to own sea frontage has pushed land dealers to a new level: they got government sanctioned on the beach reserve and in the seabed - right in front of folks who thought they had sea front property. It happened on Northern Caye Caulker to as many as 25 landowners - and we met three of them today at the Glenn Godfrey law firm. They explained how their retirement dream went to ruin:..

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"How could it happen?"

Jules Vasquez reporting
That's what Sydney and Anna Higgins keep asking themselves as they look wistfully the picture of the beachfront view had planned to spend their retirement gazing upon - but that picture is all they have now because the beachfront is now someone else's private property and so is the seabed!

It's a long way from the retirement dream they had when they decided to purchase in 2005:

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"We visited Caye Caulker several times before and like many other people, fell in love with the place."

Anna Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"We really like Caye Caulker and the people and the atmosphere there. It just was extremely comforting. We felt safe there. We felt it was the kind of place we would love to spend a lot of time and we didn't really have any great difficulty in making our minds up."

The made up their minds up to make it their retirement home - which meant investing their retirement funds:

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"And finally opted for what was a very large plot of land and very expensive, because it coincided with the time when we were retiring and we had a lump sum. That lump sum was what we spent on buying this plot of land. It cost US$120,000.00 - BZ$240,000.00."

They fenced the property - and were ready to develop it - but in 2012 found that their beachfront had turned into someone's back yard

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"So we were somewhat amazed that it was possible for there to be another plot of land. We went, came back, visited and the land remained in front of our plot what it didn't being when we bought it, which was some trees, beyond that, some sea and beyond that, mangroves. There was no land there."

Anna Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"There is now this existing plot which in fact is under water and we can't understand how this is possible."

Indeed, where in 2005 the map said beach and sea, the 2015 version it has another parcel of land 150 feet deep right in front of what used to be beachfront. It's not that Caye Caulker is growing, it's that land is being given on the beach reserve and seabed.

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"At the moment the land is there with this line. This is non-existent land that is drawn here."

Anna Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"Really I couldn't believe it. To be honest, I could not believe that this was possible in a country like Belize - that gave you every confidence, because we ask when we bought it, if there was any chance of nay hanky-panky with the whole business of allocating the land. And no, we were assured it was absolutely cast-iron."

Former Caye Caulker Village Chairman Alberto Villanueva thought the same thing - and he should have - he was the one collecting property tax on village lands:

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"As the former Chair, I wasn't even aware that I personally was affected by all this Jules. And the only way when I was in council we found out this was going on was when titles or Minister's Fiat grants started showing up in our office for properties we didn't even know existed."

He says the lands that are shown on the 2015 map aren't really there:

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"You basically cannot even put a bird to stand on this soil, because you would sink to your neck in it. That is how low-lying these properties are and some of it, if you go to Caye Caulker at the moment, there are in the water - in the sea. So, basically it's on the seabed. Those properties should not have been drawn up in the first place. Those leases or Minister's Fiat grant should not have been given in the first place. It is water. It is nothing but water and mud."

Jules Vasquez
"But from your experience, land is not issued on the beachfront and seabed."

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"That's correct. Now, even in the last few subdivisions when I was in office, what was done is that we leave a 66 feet beach reserve, specifically for the reserve as stated by the National Lands Act."

And for this Caye Caulker resident, he says what galls him the most is that:…

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"The people that have interests in these so-called beach front or water front lots are using it solely for speculation purposes and no other. They are just in to make a profit. That's it. They will never build on it Jules. Never."

Jules Vasquez
"It's only to flip it?"

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"That is correct."

Jules Vasquez
"Something was setup for them and thy came up right there. They created wealth - that creating a property that doesn't exist."

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"By devaluating bonafide beach front owners their value for their lot."

Anna Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"It's taken all our money. We can't sell our plot now. Nobody will buy it and if they would, we would only be able to get $20,000.00 for it. So, we've lost our retirement money."

Jules Vasquez
"How much in value did you lose?"

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"About US$85,000.00."

A violation but attorney Andrew Bennett says that the practice is widespread on the north end of the island:

Andrew Bennett, Attorney
"Mr. and Mrs. Higgins concern is just one of many. We have 14 clients who have the same experience, as it relates to land that is being surveyed, areas that have been surveyed that fall on the sea bed."

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"It's not only me as a village, but it's a lot of other people that are natives to the island that are being affected and of course foreigners that have bought."

Bennett says it sets a dangerous precedent:

Andrew Bennett, Attorney
"Every land owner, every person who owns property on beach front in Belize should be concerned. It is like you have enjoyed that special feature that you have purchased and that you own and in the blink of an eye, you wake up and the property that you think is beach front, is no longer beach front."

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"How could a government sell land that doesn't exists and destroying what was as far as we were concerned - a legal right. It was, as I have said a beach front, but it is no longer a beach front. It is no longer a dream, it is a nightmare."

For these retirees, it is a lesson well and painfully learned:

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"It was our retirement money. It's what we wanted to do. It was your dream and not only is the dream ruin, it's a dream ruin with a nasty taste in the mouth that stays there."

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"It's bad for foreign investment on an island. It doesn't paint a good picture of Belize."

They have hired attorneys to press government for a resolution, but that's been going without results for two years - and the village chairman said he got a personal promise on it three years ago:

Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman
"We brought this to the attention of the government just before the last election. We got a call from the PM. He assured us that it would be addressed at cabinet. Our area rep. has said that it has been brought before cabinet and the issue should have been settle and apparently both the commissioner of lands and the CEO are saying they just need the directive from the Minister of Lands."

Andrew Bennett, Attorney
"Some of the officials at the Lands Department, they do understand our clients concern, but it seems that the final decision lies with the Minister."

Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront
"We've dealt through the channels as we've seen them, but to be honest, it's coming to the point where a fuss needs to be made. I am think seriously of having an online site which is "buyers beware"."

We spoke with the commissioner of Lands and Survey Wilbert Vallejos this evening and he told us he is aware of the situation but they are still investigating to see if the land in front of the properties is indeed beach reserve. We told him that is very clearly what is on the 2005 map - and he said that if it is beach reserve the permission to survey, or a lease would be declared null and void, and a title would be nullified. But he said that at this point, they do not have the full information - which seems strange since the issue has been queried by various title holders since 2012. Still, Vallejos conceded that the beach reserve must be reserved as public property and added that, quote, "if it's something that needs to be fixed we will fix it."

Channel 7


#503643 - 04/24/15 05:28 AM Re: Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,391
Katie Valk Offline
Katie Valk  Offline
So who now has what was their beachfront?


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#503670 - 04/24/15 06:31 PM Re: Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 40
beck Offline
.
beck  Offline
Sadly, as the article states, this has happened to many. In our case, the sea (actually mangrove) has been stripped and filled. Dredging went on for months over a period of several years. So this is not only land speculation as indicated in the article, where they flip this site, it's also an environmental issue as this land will eventually be filled, mangroves eradicated, and more nursery areas eradicated. CCVC says they do not control the enviro permits so there is little they can do, it lies with the ministers. We also have hired an attorney, but no results in the last 18 months of engagement. My advice, don't buy on the water unless you are really connected and never invest more than you can afford to lose. My sympathies to this lovely couple, I think they would be a great addition to the Caye.

#503671 - 04/24/15 10:15 PM Re: Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Nov 2002
Posts: 2,436
Short Offline
Short  Offline
I happened before on Caye Caulker after the re-registring of all properties:
//ambergriscaye.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/ubb/showflat/Number/462810/
According to this article Estevan Perera successfully had some surveys of fake lots cancelled:
//ambergriscaye.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/ubb/showflat/Number/476138/
Really sad.


Live and let live
#503674 - 04/25/15 04:39 AM Re: Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,631
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Northern Caye Caulker Beach Reserve

Belmopan City, April 24, 2015. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture, through the Lands and Surveys Department, takes this opportunity to clarify to the general public the allegations made regarding surveys that may have included the beach reserve on Northern Caye Caulker.

The general public is reminded that in accordance with the legislation that governs National Land, the policy of the Lands and Surveys Department makes provisions for the allowance of a beach reserve for public access that precedes any property line. Any and all crown land that adjoins such reserve is subject to distribution or further reservation by the Minister responsible for Lands.

The Ministry has launched a full investigation in the matter of the allegations made on April 23, 2015, regarding surveys that may have included the beach reserve. Preliminary investigation suggests that the beach reserve has not been compromised. However, the results of the full ongoing investigation will provide confirmation or otherwise.

The Department takes this opportunity to remind the general public that the beach reserve is for enjoyment and direct benefit of the general public.


#503845 - 04/30/15 09:45 AM Re: Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Nov 2000
Posts: 5,441
ScubaLdy Offline
.
ScubaLdy  Offline
Does any one else think it is time to stop pussy-footing around protecting 'family members' and start listing names? Belize has developed a terrible reputation for scams and scandals. It is way past time to clean house - both red and blue.

Let's have the transparency you are always totting at election time but never coming through with. When - can we start seeing the truth? When will there be audits? When will individuals start obeying the law that they list their assets when entering and leaving office? Is there no shame in being dishonest? Where are the churches who fight issues like birth control and laws regarding petty crime (ganja)while massive amounts of taxpayers monies are stolen or given away?

Is it time for aa revolt? Who will lead it?


Harriette
Take only pictures leave only bubbles
#504243 - 05/14/15 07:33 PM Re: Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle [Re: Marty]  
Joined: May 2015
Posts: 46
DeeJay Offline
.
DeeJay  Offline
Northern Caye Caulker Land Update
Written by Administrator
Thursday, 14 May 2015 00:00
Belmopan City, April 30, 2015.
Upon conclusion of investigation on the Northern Caye Caulker beach reserve, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture has determined that the parcels in question for the individuals who made the complaint is non-existent because the surveys relating to those parcels have been cancelled since the Government of Belize learned about these cases in 2012.
The Ministry would like to note that several other large parcels of land affecting other properties were issued prior to 2008 and as such, it will be challenging to address and regularize these, considering the fact that most of these parcels are now free hold titles that have changed hands among multiple owners over the years.

Since 2008, the Ministry issued permission to purchase for two parcels, however no titles for these were issued and those parcels in question have been cancelled. There are two Titles that were issued and the Ministry will commence discussions with the individuals affected with a view to keep in accordance with the legislation that governs National Land which seeks to ensure the beach reserve is maintained for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.

It has also come to the attention of the Ministry during this investigation that surveys were not conducted in accordance with the established guidelines and that the authentication process was irregular. The Ministry intends to discuss these substantive matters at the next surveyor’s board meeting in order to ensure accountability for what clearly are unacceptable survey practices. In addition, the department internal vetting and authentication process is currently being strengthened to ensure greater accountability by the Government’s Survey Team.

The Department remains committed to ensuring that the policies and legislation governing National Lands are upheld and we thank the general public for their support as the Ministry works diligently to address these land issues as they arise and to establish standards, policies and procedures to safeguard land rights.


#504275 - 05/15/15 02:18 PM Re: Retired English Couple Scammed in Land Hustle [Re: DeeJay]  
Joined: Jan 2011
Posts: 259
MikeD Offline
.
MikeD  Offline
This response does not clearly define a resolution. is "the complaint non-esistent" refer to the Higgins complaint, or are the Higgins sea front parcels not actually sea front, or are the new parcels in front of the Higgins not actually parcels? Where was the incorrect survey done...on the Higgins parcel? Belizians speak in run-on sentences. I find understanding this response difficult if not impossible!


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