... Buying? Building? Here's what you need to know
(Part 2: I want to build, what do I do?)
...
by Lic. Roger A. Petersen
Attorney At Law
Author of The Legal Guide to Costa Rica

I want to build. What do I do?

 In order to build in Costa Rica, you will likely face a bureaucratic maze of governmental regulations. The law requires that any application for a construction permit be presented by a licensed architect or engineer (Article 83, Law of Constructions, Article II.2 Construction Regulations). It is therefore advisable to contact a reputable, licensed architect or civil engineer to guide you through the construction process.

 What do architects and engineers charge?

 All architects and engineers in Costa Rica must be licensed by the Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Ingenieros y Arquitectos-CFIA. This governing body establishes the fee schedule that can be charged by its members. Most fees are based upon a percentage of the value of the construction project. According to the regulations of the CFIA (Reglamento para la Contratación de Servicios de Consultoría en Ingeniería y Arquitectura), the involvement of a licensed architect/engineer in a construction project is separated into two phases. Phase 1 is construction plans and permits, and phase 2 is control and execution.

Phase 1. Construction plans and permits. This phase is further subdivided into several distinct professional services that can be provided to the client by the architect/engineer. The percentages cited below are those that the CFIA has established as minimum chargeable fees.

 Preliminary studies (estudios preliminaries): 0.5 percent. These studies may or may not be required, depending on the scope of the project.

 Preproject design (anteproyecto): 1.0 to 1.5 percent. Generally, during this stage, the architect/engineer will meet with the client in order to discuss the client's construction requirements. With this information, the architect/engineer will prepare drafts of the proposed construction project for review by the client. These drafts should include site planning and preliminary work drawings. When you contract for this service be sure you agree with your architect/engineer beforehand on what he or she is going to provide you.

 Construction plans and technical specifications (planos de construcción y especificaciones técnicas): 4.0 percent. This is one of the most important steps in the overall construction project since execution of the project will depend upon the quality and accuracy of your construction plans. Once you and your architect/engineer have agreed on the layout and design of the project, she or he will begin drafting the plans. In Costa Rica, a complete set of plans should include a site plan, distribution plan, elevation and transversal and longitude perspectives, roof design and drainage, design of footings and support beams, structural plans, electrical design, mechanical and sanitary system design, as well as a plan that details all of the interior finishings of the construction. Budgeting (presupuesto): 0.5 percent for global budgeting; 1.0 percent for itemized budgeting. Here the architect/engineer prepares a materials list based upon your construction plans and prepares a construction budget for you.

 Phase 2. Control and execution. This stage involves the actual construction and project supervision. The regulations authorize three kinds of supervisory tasks, each of which requires a larger time investment from the architect/engineer. Inspection (Inspección): 3 percent of total construction value. Here your architect/engineer will visit the construction site at least once a week and will inspect it to ensure that the plan specifications are being followed by the general contractor. They will also verify the quality of the materials being used and review invoices being presented by the general contractor.

 Supervision (Dirección técnica): 5 percent. This requires more direct involvement by the architect/engineer in the day-to-day operation of the project.

 Administration (Administración): 12 percent. Here, the architect/engineer takes complete responsibility for the execution and completion of the project.

 The option you choose will depend upon the type of project involved, the reliability of your builder/general contractor, and the amount of time you are willing to dedicate to the construction project. All told, phases 1 and 2 can range from 9 percent to 18 percent of the estimated value of the construction project, depending on the amount of services required. As such, it is common practice to negotiate fees with the architect/engineer. Most, of course, will be eager for your business and, depending on the scope of the project will be willing to work out an agreement tailored to your particular needs. Otherwise, have your attorney do the negotiating for you to ensure that you will get the best agreement possible.

 Before you sign any contract, be sure that you understand the fee structure and know exactly what is and is not included in the fee. Likewise, clearly define the responsibilities that your architect/engineer is going to assume. Do the same thing with your general contractor and any subcontractors.

Construction permits.

 Before you purchase a lot with the intent of building on it, you should conduct some preliminary studies on the property to ensure that there won't be a problem obtaining a building permit. First, determine if the lot has basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, and drainage. Second, make sure there are no restrictions placed on the lot that could result in the denial of a construction permit. It will not be enough to check the Public Registry. You should also check the Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte) for future road construction projects; the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud); the National Institute of Housing and Urban Development (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo) and the municipality where the property is located (municipalidad). And finally, be aware of any environmental regulation that may effect your construction project, such as national wildlife refuges and areas deemed protected by the forestry Law.

 Requests for construction permits are filed with the Permit Reception Office (Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construcción), which is a centralized office that houses government representatives from MOPT (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes-roads), INVU (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo-housing), ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad-telephone), AYA (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados-water), SNE (Servicio Nacional de Electricidad-electricity), CFIA (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos), and the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud).

 For a single family home that measures more than 70 m2 (735.2 ft.2), the applicant must provide the following documentation: four copies of the construction plans, four copies of the property cadastre plot plan (Plano catastrado), four copies of the permit checklist (hoja de comisión), two copies of your property deed (escritura), one copy of the consulting contract with your architect/engineer (contrato de consultoria), an approval from the water company (AYA) regarding availability of water, and one copy of your electrical design plan approved by SNE. Condominium projects, commercial construction, and urbanization projects all carry additional requirements for obtaining construction permits.

 In addition to these requirements, you will need to request a building permit from the municipality in which the property is located. By law it is the municipality that is delegated the responsibility to ensure that all constructions comply with building regulations (Article 1, Construction Law). You can, therefore, expect periodic visits to your construction site by the municipal building inspector, who must certify that the construction is proceeding according to code.

 Whether you purchase an existing property or decide to build you dream home, be well informed about the procedures involved so that you ensure your investment will be a profitable one.


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