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Bloody Property Contests a Dark Side of Mexico's Real Estate Market

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MEXICO CITY (AP) – A grisly pre-Christmas murder of two young men and their uncle in an early 1900s home in Mexico City has drawn attention to the dark side of the capital’s booming real estate market, fueled by a lack of legal documents and gangs illegally seizing property.

Actor Andrés Tirado, his musician brother Jorge Tirado and an uncle whose name has not been released were found dead on Sunday, all with their throats cut. Prosecutors said the apparent motive was an ownership dispute over the property.

In another case, a young woman on Tuesday posted a desperate video on social media from a roof in the south side of the city, in which she can be heard shouting: “Police! Help! They kidnapped me!

Police said the woman told them relatives had erected a metal door to stop her from leaving the house, trapping her inside with four children. Police said a dispute over ownership was behind the alleged kidnapping and that an investigation was ongoing into the illegal acquisition of the property.

Authorities have known for years that there are armed and violent gangs that specialize in taking over homes. The trend is made possible by the fact that many properties – perhaps as many as a fifth of homes – lack legal documents or have titles listed in the names of dead people who left no wills.

According to a 2021 report by the City Hall’s public policy evaluation agency, the percentage of residences in the capital occupied by squatters, whose property is in legal dispute or whose owners died without a will rose from 10.9% in 2010 to 19 .9% in 2020.

Mexico has an expensive, inefficient, antiquated and corrupt legal system.

In 2019, Mexico City prosecutors said that in some of the 311 active property seizure cases that year, notaries, lawyers or real estate agents falsified documents to evict the rightful owners.

Because it costs a lot to make a will in Mexico, many people don’t, often leaving those who inherit homes in trouble to protect their rights.

This seems to have been the case with the murders of the Tirado brothers and their uncle. The elderly brother of the uncle’s wife recently died after a long illness, but the nurse who cared for him continued to live on the ground floor of the house in the prosperous neighborhood of Roma, made famous by the 2018 Academy Award-winning film “Roma. 🇧🇷

Prosecutors gave the following account:

The nurse tried to claim that the house was hers based on her alleged romantic relationship with the deceased. The man’s sister moved upstairs to prevent the nurse from breaking into the house.

The Tirado brothers came to live with their uncles in August, in part to protect them. The nurse brought her daughter and son-in-law to live on the ground floor, and the Tirados apparently feared they might turn violent.

What followed was a tense five-month coexistence, with one family downstairs and one upstairs.

The family on the floor below “began to act in such a way that it evolved into this type of violence,” said prosecutor Ulises Lara.

The nurse, her daughter and son-in-law were sentenced to prison pending trial on kidnapping charges. One of the men who may have committed the murders – also related to the nurse – was arrested on drug charges but is under investigation in the case.

In other cases, gangs simply forced their way onto a property and evicted the occupants. The city estimates that there are 23 home seizure gangs operating in Mexico City, some linked to drug gangs and others to quasi-political groups.

“A problem we have in virtually the entire city is the problem of property invasions,” said Mexico City prosecutor Ernestina Godoy in 2019.

In 2016, for example, a police operation evicted a violent group of squatters from a house in the upscale neighborhood of Condesa that the group had taken over years before. After the building was recovered, police found underground bunkers and tunnels dug under the structure. Weapons and stolen goods were also recovered.

The building was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished, amid rising prices and rents and the housing shortage in the city.