Jamaica’s downtown land grab
KINGSTON (AP): Fraudsters in downtown Kingston are taking advantage of rising land values and increasing demand for property by capturing abandoned premises and registering them in their names.
“We are seeing a new phenomenon where persons are capturing some of these properties and running to the tax office to pay up the back taxes with the hope of acquiring these by adverse possession,” said Town Clerk Errol Greene.
Adverse possession allows a person who is in possession of land as a mere squatter to pay the outstanding property tax and obtain a good title if the true owner fails to assert his rights to the land within a specified period.
The law also prohibits the real owner of the land from bringing action to recover the property after the expiration of 12 years.
But Greene noted that in many cases in downtown Kingston, the persons who have rushed to pay the back taxes have never lived on the property.
“We have seen quite a number of cases reported to the police where, when it is investigated, that is what is found,” Greene said as he condemned the practice.
“People are now seeing the value of land ownership in downtown Kingston,” added Greene.
But another participant in the Editors’ Forum, businessman James Josephs, was not as critical of the practice.
“You can’t just have a piece of property and it sits down and melts away and for 20 years you are not paying land tax, and all of a sudden you hear downtown is being redeveloped and you run back,” argued Josephs.
“Everybody in Jamaica knows that if you pay another man’s land tax for seven years, the property becomes yours,” added Josephs.
However, head of the Kingston Central Police Division, Super-intendent Steve McGregor, noted that in many instances, property owners had to abandon their property because of the lawlessness in downtown Kingston before the May 2010 incursion by members of the security forces.
“A lot of people left their houses, business places and land that they bought because they could not access it,” said McGregor.
“So it is not fair to say that they abandoned it and are coming back now… . Because of what is happening downtown now, people feel safe to come back for their lands,” added McGregor.
He expressed concern that the tax office was accepting money from persons without any proof of ownership or anything to show that they have connection to the land.
“I did not know that somebody could just go with no papers to show and tell the tax office that I have been living here without no proof about seven years or anything like that. They just start living on the land,” said McGregor.
He recounted a case where a woman abandoned her property because she was unable to collect any rent from the tenants for more than 10 years.
There has been a sharp increase in the demand for property in downtown Kingston over the past two years, pushing up land prices.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding recently told The Gleaner that he has seen examples that suggest the price of real estate in downtown Kingston has more than doubled in the last two years.
Head of the Kingston Restoration Company, Morin Seymour, has also reported a sharp increase in requests for property in the market district.
“There is a steady call that comes in from people looking for land almost daily,” Seymour told those present at the forum, which was held at The Gleaner’s North Street offices.