Panama Real Estate Scams
Introduction – There is currently a real estate boom or a pseudo boom going on in the
Republic of Panama. Our law firm, Panama Legal, S.A., has been getting clients that have
been victimized. Here is one of the more frequent scams we are hearing about.
Panama Rental Scam – The way this scam works requires an owner who is resident in
another country and retains a person to act as their real estate property manager or rental
manager. The manager, who may or may not be a real estate broker, finds a tenant for the
rental property and negotiates a price with the person for the rent. They draft a rental
agreement and collect the rent and security deposit. What is wrong you will ask since
everything seems to be normal?
Panama Lease Agreements – A lawful Panama Rental Agreement should be done in
triplicate. The landlord or their lawful assignee gets one copy, the tenant gets another copy
and the Panama Housing Ministry gets the third copy. The housing ministry must stamp
each copy. The security deposit is also held by the Panama Housing Ministry. Now the
system in Panama doesn’t work the way you thought it would, does it?
The Rental Scam Unfolds – Now the manager often writes and signs a rental agreement,
which is not registered or stamped by the Housing Ministry. The property manager will often
tell the property owner who may be three thousand miles away that the rent being received
is somewhat less than what is being charged. The tenant pays the property manager who in
turn passes the rent on to the property owner. It would be normal to deduct 5% or 7% for a
service fee. What we are talking about is charging $1800 for a rental and telling the owner
the rent is $1100.00 thus pocketing $700.00 a month. Another way to play is the property
owner is told the apartment is vacant for a few months and it is not and the property
manager pockets the rents for that period.
It Gets Worse – These lease or rental agreements may not be enforceable. This could
mean you are free to leave when you want to and it also may mean the owner could get
you out when they want to since you may not have a lawful right to occupy the premises.
The property or rental manger may not have been authorized to rent the unit. The property
owner may have just wanted the unit maintained and vacant and the property manager
may be pocketing all the rent. The owner may show up and find you there one day and tell
you to leave and then call the police, their lawyer or both. If the owner never received any
of the rent you paid and the property manager was not authorized to rent the property
where does that leave you? Do you still owe money for the time occupied to the property
owner? Will the property owner have to sue the property manger for the money you paid in
rent? Do you have any legal right to continue to stay in the unit? Could you and your
possessions get legally locked out? Will you ever get your security deposit back? Can you
sue the property manager? As you can see it can get thick.
The Remedy – NEVER EVER sign any real estate lease, rental, purchase, offer to buy real
property, etc without a Panama Lawyer reviewing the documents BEFORE you sign. We can
work fast and will be happy to review your documents. If you were in a hurry you could
even send us scans of the documents for us to review and modify. We can check to see who
has title to the property in question and if there is a lawful enforceable paper trail to the
property manager authorizing them to execute leases for the property. We can make sure
your lease is lawful and have it registered in the Panama Housing Ministry and have your
security deposit held by them as well. Security deposits are one month’s rent by the way.
Feel free to contact us by phone or email.