By Joseph W. Lown
Illegal construction within historic areas is a pernicious form of national degradation and its protection falls within the remit of the Mexican federal government office of INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History). Regularizing unauthorized construction near registered monuments is tolerated too often. Speaking as a Mexican with years of experience in real estate, I am certain that more can be done to protect Mexico’s national patrimony from this underhanded practice and loophole that offenders bank on and exploit.
In our case, justice grinds too slowly. For a group of us, it has been eight years and counting. In September of 2014, a cadre of residents led by Worth Brown, a courageous permanent resident, approached me for help with a case of illegal construction on Calle Loreto in the Centro of San Miguel de Allende. They knew I was studying Mexican law at the Universidad de León Plantel San Miguel, just around the corner in Plaza Cívica. Being a student, I quickly consulted with my professor, Licenciada María Aurora Ramírez Padrón, and we took the case as part of my national public service, a requirement for graduation.
A neighbor flagrantly initiated unauthorized construction without the requisite green tag from Desarrollo Urbano, the planning department, and paperwork from the Instituto de Antropología e Historia (INAH). She was constructing a multi-level addition without any regard for neighbors, the nearby historic monuments, view corridors, height requirements, and historic continuity.
As we say, sin vergüenza, without shame, she repeatedly instructed her contractor to break the orange “obra suspendida” seals that were plastered on the front door. We documented everything, even her contractor shoveling in materials late at night and on the weekends when the authorities were off duty. This was a clandestine effort to add square footage and “value” to her property at the expense of everybody else.
We filed complaints with the state office of INAH, headquartered in Guanajuato City. They were sympathetic to our cause, and over the course of eight years INAH has issued two judgments, sentencias, against the property and property owner. All of these notices and orders have been disregarded. Our final recourse was to file a request with the federal prosecutors’ office, Ministerio Publico, to order enforcement of the abatement judgements. The case continues to grind on and on.
Recently, the offender put her property up for sale. We didn’t realize this until a prospective buyer innocently put the house under contract. The same day, we notified the agents brokering the deal of the pending judgments and suit. Nobody should unknowingly inherit a problem.
There needs to be an easier way to give public notice of such infractions and official resolutions when citizens and residents go through the years-long processes of fighting rule breakers.
This fight has brought up an interesting question: Can and will INAH file constructive notice of their official resolutions in the public registry? This would be like placing a lien on a property until such action is taken to remediate the wrongdoing.
Top lawyers I know haven’t given this much thought, but it is an intriguing idea that we are pursuing. Significant public and private resources are invested in San Miguel de Allende and throughout Mexico to enhance and preserve our UNESCO sites and Pueblos Mágicos.
This issue must be of everyone’s concern.
Joseph is a licensed Mexican attorney and Realtor in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato