A resort/real estate developer yesterday said the "integrity" and security of private real estate ownership in the Bahamas was being undermined by abuse of legislation such as the Quieting Titles Act, with his project embroiled in three alleged "land grab" cases.
Joerg Friese, director/partner of Long Island's Stella Maris Resort development, told Tribune Business that the development was already involved in three potential land battles, one of which had gone to court, that had been invoked under the Quieting Titles Act and Squatters Rights Act.
"We consider it absolutely unethical that anyone, except perhaps generation land-owning Bahamian families, would attempt to obtain real estate without applying proper methods, such as per purchase, lease, rent," Mr Friese said.
"We are of the opinion that both the Quieting Titles and the Squatters Rights Acts were intended to clarify/develop certain ownership situations, being connected with generation land and such.
"It is a fact in the Bahamas that, in particular, the Quieting Titles Act is archaic and - today and for non-Bahamians - unfair, inviting actions which were never intended by the definition of such law. It needs to be changed.
"The results of such activities, especially when undertaken by non-Bahamians, if successful, will not only be in contrast to what is considered fair and proper business, but will greatly undermine the integrity of the status of Bahamian real estate ownership, be it Bahamian or foreign."
Mr Friese explained that in one case, a real estate owner at Stella Maris had told the developers they wanted to acquire ownership of an adjacent lot under the Squatters Rights Act, something they protested.
A title search revealed that the Stella Maris developers still owned the lot in question, and Mr Friese said the real estate buyer joined forces with another neighbour at the development to negotiate its purchase.
The second neighbour took a first option on the lot, meaning he would buy it if the deal fell through.
Yet the original buyer "quietly" embarked on a legal action to obtain the lot, without any of the other parties knowing. The Supreme Court threw out the action on a technicality, but not before the Stella Maris developers had incurred $70,000 in legal costs. So far, the second neighbour has been unable to complete a $95,000 purchase of the lot despite paying a deposit, Mr Friese estimating that its current value was now $150,000.
"Either way, combined legal and connected expenses came to, or by far superseded, the value of the property," he added.
In a second episode, Mr Friese said another property owner at Stella Maris had attempted to acquire an adjoining lot via the Quieting Titles Act.
"I, as a director of the Stella Maris Property Owners Association, together with its President, went to see them, very, very nice people, with whom we had a very warm and long-term relationship, in order to make them aware of what they were about to do, and what implications their actions may result in, socially and otherwise," Mr Friese said.
"A very calm and neutrally-kept conversation ended with pleasant goodbye's being extended. This was followed, however, with a police warning, directed to both the president and to myself, advising us that we were no longer accepted on their property."
The developers' attempts to locate the $20,000 lot's owners have so far proved fruitless, and Mr Friese said no one else could act on their behalf without authority.
Another Quieting Titles Act action, Mr Friese said, had also been initiated by another property owner - except this time they were likely to be embroiled in a court battle, as the lot in question was owned by a prominent Nassau business family, one of whose members was a Bahamian attorney.
These episodes again suggest the need for a major overhaul of the legal and regulatory framework governing Bahamian real estate and property ownership, and the way in which conveyancing deeds and land ownership are registered.
From an economic perspective, given the relative scarcity of land in the Bahamas, ownership is critical.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor