Today’s Opinion: At the end of the rainbow

POSTED: 04/20/11 12:27 PM

We read with growing amazement through the petition 28 owners at the Rainbow Beach Club filed and in which they demand corrections to discrepancies between their deeds of division and their purchase contracts.

Basically, the owners bought something and ended up with something else. How could that happen? First of all, the owners must have been gullible, or they must have had too much confidence in the notary that passed their deeds. That is of course no excuse for what the other party apparently pulled off. The owners, mostly Americans with a bank account healthy enough for acquiring property in the Friendly Country, had every reason to believe that the notary would do them right.

We do not know who the notary is (though we could make an educated guess) and he will without any doubt argue that it is not up to him to compare deeds of division with purchase contracts. He will argue that it is up to the buyer to pay attention.

But it is most likely not that simple. The complaining owners claim that they only received their deeds of division upon their arrival at the notary-office with the message that everything was in order and that it was okay to sign.

Maybe the notary was unaware of the discrepancies between the purchase contracts and the deeds. It’s possible, but it is also weird and suspicious.

Certainly the seller of the condos at the Rainbow Beach Club knew that the deeds contained information that was not in the purchase contracts.

So there is no way of getting around the fact that the buyers were massively conned and that the notary made the con possible, also because, the plaintiffs claim, he did not read the content of the deed to the buyers.

One of the boldest moves in these deeds is the way the Rainbow Beach Club attempts to outmaneuver the owners by robbing them of their rights. One of the buildings has 34 apartments, yet the number of votes for this building in an owner-meeting is limited to 8, thus leaving 26 owners without a vote.

And that’s not all folks. The Rainbow Beach Club also protects its own management contract and the position of the property manager. That contact can only be dissolved, and the manager can only be dismissed in a meeting wherein all owners are present and by unanimous vote.

Since the developer, Sabra N.V., owns one of the condos, and since, according to the petition, the manager is linked to Sabra, that unanimous vote will never happen.

It’s not the only oddity in the deeds: the petition contains close to thirty sore points that the plaintiffs want corrected.

Whatever the outcome of this court case is going to be, from the petition it is crystal clear that foreign buyers of real estate are easily put at a disadvantage in St. Maarten. That may be fun for the sellers, but in the long run conning wealthy people is going to backfire.

When that happens, the image of the island as a vacation destination and as a place where it is safe to invest in real estate, is on the line.

The simplest advice to buyers is of course: always compare the text of your deeds with the content of your purchase contract. Buyers who are not up to reading legal mumbo-jumbo ought to hire a local lawyer – not one that is recommended by the seller – and pay for their advice. That way, a lot of future misery will be avoided. As the plaintiffs have come to realize, there is not always a pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow.

Another solution would be that the sellers of real estate offer their clients the transparency and honesty they are entitled to. But maybe that is a bit too much to ask

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