On June 17, 2016, property owners and many visiting tourists in Tulum woke up to a spate of sudden evictions and seizure of about 17 different properties in the city. The evictions occurred with little warning, forcibly removing people from their homes or hotel rooms. In some cases, tourists who had come to stay in Tulum lost some of their possessions in the unrest. This was the latest incident in a string of evictions that have been occurring lately in this city, largely due to complicated legal disputes over land ownership.
Although unfortunate, the evictions were apparently legal, albeit abrupt, carried out by a court order. Since 2011, land disputes have been leading to forced evictions in Tulum; this is merely the most recent and extensive thus far. The biggest culprit behind these evictions is ejido disputes.
Ejido land is regarded as public property and cannot be owned by a single person without going through an elaborate legal proceeding to gain title to the land. Much of the ejido is coveted beachfront property, a prime spot that attracts many businesses and tourists. Foreign investors have purchased and developed various lots near the Tulum shores, but they should beware of deals involving ejido; according to Mexican law, a foreigner cannot legally own ejido land.
According to the accounts in this article from the New York Times, some of the investors were vaguely aware that their ownership of the land was in dispute when they started building property. The complicated legal system and problem of scams, bribery, and deceptive or outright forged paperwork have further muddied the waters, but one of the biggest causes of the problem is expats and foreigners simply not understanding the law. Although the evictions were legal, this recent incident has been especially troubling for the unsuspecting tourists caught up in the unrest. This latest seizure has raised questions among tourists about the legal situation in this city and whether it’s a safe place to visit, given how sudden a seizure of property can take place.
If you are an expat looking to move to Tulum in the near future, we strongly caution you to take great care in understanding land ownership laws in Mexico. They are not the same as laws in the United States and Canada. It can be very difficult for any foreigner to legally own land, and the complications of this legal system can easily lead to situations like this. Be especially careful not to purchase ejido; remember, under no circumstances may a foreigner legally own ejido. If you purchase land that might fall under this designation, you may also face evictions in the near future.
Understandably, tourists who experienced this incident are very upset, many of them expressing dismay and contempt at being “evicted like criminals”. Even so, tourism is still alive and well in Tulum. In order to protect yourself from getting mixed up with the legal problems going on, be extra-careful in choosing which hotel you stay at. If the hotel has had a history of trouble with this particular issue, consider staying elsewhere. A luxury hotel right on the beach is certainly tempting, but it’s a gamble given the current situation, so check on sites like TripAdvisor before you make your selection.
Our Advice: Instead of Tulum, consider Playa Del Carmen or Cozumel, which are both beautiful cities that are closeby. Neither is experiencing the type of unrest that is going on in Tulum right now. You wouldn't want to get evicted from your hotel or your Airbnb in the middle of the night, (that would ruin anyone's vacation!) so our suggestion is to stay in other nearby cities.
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Just a middle-class dad and mom with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
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