Published On: Tue, Jun 7th, 2022


Land grab
Literally anything is possible in St. Maarten. This time my column is about an example of how one can legally become the owner of a piece of land in an illegal way and – fortunately – what someone can do about it.
Lawyer and Acting Governor Reynold Groeneveldt has written an instructive article about ‘prescriptive rights’. In that article, Mr. Groeneveldt gives a description of ‘prescriptive rights’.
I quote and translate the description using Google Translate as follows. By means of the procedure of ‘prescriptive rights’ one can become the owner of part of movable and/or immovable property. Ownership can be acquired by inheritance, gift or by means of a special legal title, such as a transfer by virtue of purchase and sale or by acquiring a right of ownership on the basis of prescriptive rights. The articles of law governing Prescriptive Rights can be found in Book 3, Articles 99-125 of the Dutch Civil Code. The articles of Book 3: 306-326 also contain pertinent information related to the subject of prescriptive rights.
Prescriptive rights is a procedure by which a person can acquire legal rights and title to a parcel of land (real estate) that does not legally belong to him/her.
According to Groeneveldt, one can acquire ownership of a plot of land after having had unbroken, undisturbed, public and unambiguous possession in good faith for 20 years or more. (Articles 3:99 – 3.104). In Book 3, Article 99, the law stipulates a term of 10 years for immovable property, but in most cases the term of 20 years as provided for in the old Civil Code is observed. The property must not be ambiguous and must be regarded as property with the intent to own it in accordance with general norms and standards in the community. On the basis of the acquirer’s actions, the court will determine whether there is possession with the intention of ownership or possession on the basis of a title.
In his article, published on StMaartenNews.com, Groeneveldt further gives some examples of the two main ways in which a person can obtain right to ownership of land on the basis of prescriptive rights – in other words ‘acquisitive prescription’. I recommend that you read this article yourself.
And now for the crux of this story. Recently, a remarkable lawsuit took place. It is a clear example of how people can take land on a legal basis. Just say steal in this case. An entrepreneur ran a business on a piece of public land. At least that’s what he thought. This is often done just like that here on the island. So be it. St. Maarten is still the wild west for that matter. Third parties claimed that piece of land as their property. Even though they never occupied that land. They even dared to ask rent for that land from the best entrepreneur. When he learned that they were not the rightful owners of that piece of land, he stopped paying the rent. He contacted the registered owner of the piece of land via the land registry. He even turned out to be alive. You should check! He negotiated a purchase price whereby he would pay a lump sum for the land in monthly installments. However, the fake landlords dragged him to court. During the hearing, the judge indicated that they cannot prove that they bought the plot of land, but that they may have become the owner of it due to prescription. They then amended the claim and demanded a declaration from the judge that they became the owner by statute of limitations. The Common Court then declared that they had become the owners of the plot due to prescription. The entrepreneur appealed. The Appeals Court also ruled that they became owners through prescription. The entrepreneur subsequently lodged an appeal in cassation with the Supreme Court. We have yet to hear from the entrepreneur in question how that process is working out.
In another case, the Supreme Court considered that if someone acted in bad faith to take possession of a piece of land and the judge rules that person acting in bad faith may keep the land on the basis of “acquisitive statute of limitations” whereby he acquires the right to property, the loser in that case is entitled to compensation. But he has to claim that through another civil case. Of course, not everyone has the money to conduct lengthy lawsuits. For example, an acquirer of a piece of land on the basis of malicious intent can go free with his act of land grabbing.

But there is hope. With this interesting Supreme Court ruling regarding statute of limitations and the ability for the former owner to claim damages and eventually recover the lost property, people can provide legal defense against land grabbers acting in bad faith. Maybe we can even start a foundation. Landgrab Prevention Foundation. This foundation would be able to assist people in such reach cases not only legally but also financially.
Perhaps lawyers such as Reynold Groeneveldt, Ralph Richardson, Edwin Maduro and Cor Merx can make a first move to set up such a foundation. They are also assured of my support.


Originally published in Dutch on DossierKoninkrijksrelaties.nl as “Landjepik“.

Related news article: Supreme Court-ruling sheds more light on prescriptive rights

Publisher’s Note: 10 days after writing this column, the sad news broke that Mr. Reynold Groeneveldt had passed away on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. He laid to rest with a funeral on Monday, June 6, 2022. May his beloved soul rest in eternal peace.

Acting Governor Groeneveldt unexpectedly passes away