Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Briefing paper: AUAN, AULAN, SOHA

Dear Sir,

The information contained herein has been compiled to highlight the many problems that we in the Valle of Almanzora, Levante Almeriense and La Axarquia areas of Andalucia are experiencing due to widespread abuse of the planning system. It is by no means exhaustive but will hopefully give you an understanding of our position and why we have raised our concerns with you.

You are, of course, aware that many citizens from the European community settled in Spain believing that, having used the services of a local solicitor; they had purchased a legal property; only later to find out that their homes were illegal. You know that the Spanish authorities knew and allowed this practice to continue. That Governments and Town Halls continued to build knowing that they were breaking the planning laws. That profit and, in many cases, corruption was more important than complying with such laws.

These owners, having used the Spanish legal framework for the purchase, now find they are expected to shoulder the blame, and future costs, in order to get what they have already paid for. The Spanish authorities, which include many Notaries, Lawyers, Town Halls and Regional Governments, were aware of the abuses, and in many cases are implicated in the corruption.

You are no doubt also aware that ‘land grab’ or the expropriation of land from existing owners and the charging of infrastructure expenses to the same owners has also manifested itself in Andalucia.

We hope that you will consider the issues raised and can see why we fear for our future. No European citizen should be placed, and possibly live the remainder of their life, in these circumstances.

Yours faithfully,

Maura Hillen Philip Smalley Rex Dobson
President AUAN President SOHA President AULAN

Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2
Urban Abuse in Andalucia 3
Legal Situation of Homeowners 3
Lack of Documentation 3
Denuncias & Legal Proceedings 4
Local Legality but Regional Illegality 4
Land Grab 5
Disenfranchisement 5
Legal Remedies currently available 5
Litigation – Justice delayed is justice denied 5
Legalisation – Fitting a square peg into a round hole 5
Special regulations for access to services 6
Our fears for the future 6
What do we want? 8
Appendix A – Reporting of Urban Abuse in Andalucia. 11
Appendix B – Case Studies 16
Sample case 1 – Inadequate documentation 16
Sample case 2 – Impact of Existence of Denuncia 16
Sample case 3 – Impact of Legal Proceedings 17
Sample case 4 - Local Legality, Regional Illegality 17
Sample case 5 - Local Legality, Regional Illegality 18
Sample case 6 - Local Legality, Regional Illegality 19
Sample Case 7 – Land Grab 20
Sample Case 8 – Land Grab 20
Urban Abuse in Andalucia
Urban abuse in Andalucia has been well documented. Our mayors, council members, officials, architects, lawyers, promoters and constructors have all been called before the court to answer a variety of charges including abuse of office, bribery, abuse of urban planning powers, forgery, buying of favours, prohibited negotiations and abuse of power in general. (See - Appendix A).

Spain has been the subject of damning reports from the European Union (Auken 2009, Libicki and Cashman 2007). No other EU member state has been called on the Parliament's carpet in such a manner before, concerning the systematic property rights and environmental abuses reported.

And yet, it is clear that the Junta de Andalucia has done nothing to recognise or implement the recommendations of the European Union on this matter.

It has done little or nothing to implement our demands for a fair and equitable solution for the victims of urban abuse. (See- What do we want?).

We believe that if the government of Andalucia fails to recognise its moral obligations and its economic peril and continues to react in a slow, indecisive and short-sighted manner to this crisis then foreign investment will continue to decline leaving a region that will forever struggle to regain its reputation in a highly competitive property market.

If current problems remain un-resolved then the future problems could become insurmountable. The economic damage could well spread to those as yet un-effected including the Spanish Banks who hold vast mortgage debts. Profits created will quickly diminish to debt without a steady stream of foreign investors to oil the wheels of the economy.

Legal Situation of Homeowners
Lack of Documentation
Tens of thousands of people bought their homes in good faith, with services promised and paid for in a ‘package’ of house and land from a promoter only to find that the houses were actually built on rural land and were hence illegal. Some have no documentation at all, some have partial documentation, some have illegally issued documentation and some have found that they have fraudulent documentation.

It is not possible to legally register, to sell or to pay taxes on an undocumented house.

Without documentation (specifically a habitation certificate), the homeowner is unable to legally obtain water and electricity via a meter and to have a contract with the suppliers. As a result, many homeowners have illegal or temporary ‘builders’ supplies (an inadequate low wattage electricity and low volume water supply) or no supply at all.

Sample case 1, (Albox, Valle de Almanzora)
This is a typical case of members buying in good faith, but not being able to get connections to water and electricity because they have no habitation certificate. They rely on tankered water which is expensive and use a generator for a few hours a day which is also expensive.

Denuncias & Legal Proceedings
As the scale of the urban abuse scandal became apparent many developments were denounced by ecology groups or belatedly by the Junta de Andalucia. As is normal in Spain, the owners of houses are not usually informed of a denuncia affecting their property, the existence of which only comes to light during other proceedings.

The effects of a denuncia can be seen in Sample Case 2. (Albox, Valle de Almanzora)
Residents bought in good faith and mains supplies were included in the house price. However, the builder vanished leaving them on a temporary builders supply, which was later disconnected . In 2006 residents grouped together to pay 100,000 euros for the installation of pylons and cables. They had permission from the local council and the Junta de Anadalucia. On the point of connection the Junta stopped the work because a denuncia existed. It had existed for 6 months before the Junta gave approval. It had been unknown to the residents. They fortunately have water, as they grouped together to pay for this and managed to obtain a connection and meter. However, they are still without electricity.

The effects of legal proceedings can be seen in Sample Case 3. (Cantoria, Valle de Almanzora)
Residents who bought in good faith and lived in houses with documentation were contacted to see if they wished to declare an interest in court proceedings against their promoter for the construction of property on rustic land without a building license. The judge indicated that he was considering demolition of the 19 homes involved in the case. In September 2008 the mains electricity supply was disconnected and the occupants were forced under threat of a 6,000 euro fine for stealing electricity, to connect to a generator.

Local Legality but Regional Illegality
A few residents appear to be trapped in an argument between the local and regional levels of government. They have a full set of paperwork from the local councils and yet the regional level insists they are illegal. This situation exists in Zurgena (Valle de Almanzora), in Vera (Levante Almeriense) and in La Vinuela (Axarquia). The homeowners themselves are not informed until it is too late to defend themselves.

The effects of a dispute between the regional and local authorities can been seen in Sample Case 4 (La Vinuela, Axarquia) & 5 (Alcaucin, Axarquia)
Residents of houses with full paperwork and permissions advised that their building licences were in question (8 years after they were issued) and their properties were at risk of demolition.

It is here that we find our most extreme example (sample case 6), that of the Priors in Vera:-
The Prior’s had full local paperwork for their house. However they were evicted with two hours notice and had to watch as the house was demolished by the Junta. Their electricity and water meters were removed. For 2 years they have been forced to live in their garage without water and electricity. They are both pensioners. They are not allowed to reconnect the services. They have no compensation.

Land Grab
We have instances of ‘land grab’ in Bedar, Levante Almeriense.
See Sample Cases 7 and 8 (Bedar)
Where an attempt has been made to expropriate from existing owners with the charging of infrastructure expenses to the same owners.

Registration on the Padron is a prerequisite for registration on the censo electoral. Owners of illegal homes in Zurgena (Valle de Almanzora) are unable to register on the padron because they do not have street names and house numbers. Thus they are denied the right to vote in municipal and European Elections.

Legal Remedies currently available
Litigation – Justice delayed is justice denied
Various individuals and small groups of residents have taken civil action for fraud against their promoters. However, this is a lengthy process with civil actions taking up to 8 years to reach a conclusion. It is also expensive (€10,000 +) and thus beyond the reach of many.

Legalisation – Fitting a square peg into a round hole
In late 2008 the Junta de Andalucia began to show a political will to address the problem of illegal properties.

• The Junta ordered an inspection of all of the ‘irregular’ houses in the the region including the problem areas of the Valle de Almanzora and La Axarquia with 11,000 and 10,000 illegal houses identified in these areas to date.
• The Junta began to enforce planning legislation first introduced in 2002 (Ley de Ordenacion Urbanistica de Andalucia or LOUA) which requires all of our Town Halls to produce an urban plan. These plans must take notice of the results from the inspection team with respect to the legalisation of our homes i.e. Will we be in the 95% that the Junta has stated will be ‘regularised’ in some way or in the 5% that will be demolished because they are on protected land or in a dangerous position?
Problem 1 – Current solutions will take decades
Whilst this sounds like progress but the problems are revealed in the detail. The LOUA does not allow for the existence of a house on rustic land for any purpose other than agriculture (Why? Other EU countries allows this). So, we must wait until a town plan expands gradually to encompass our property. This process will take many years and may never be achieved. Each iteration of a PGOU takes 6-9 months to create and approximately 2 years to approve.

Given the difficulties involved in ‘reverse engineering’ illegal houses into a legal plan (with land segregation being a key issue) we anticipate that many homes in Andalucia will ultimately be abandoned to the uncertain legal status of ‘fuera de ordenation’ and thousands may be demolished.

Problem 2 - The victims may become the forgotten
As none of the EU recommendations with respect to undue influence in the Town Halls has been enacted, the homeowner must continue to compete with powerful vested interests in the planning process.

As the EU recommendation for independent arbitration and support for the homeowner has been ignored we must struggle to understand the complex process of planning legislation as it is ‘reverse engineered’ unto our homes.

Problem 3 – Who pays?
The construction industry is in serious recession and a number of promoters have gone out of business or cannot afford to pay the costs for necessary infrastructure. This might leave the homeowner with no option but to carry those costs. It is further feared that Town Halls will not pursue, even where possible, promoters for costs relating to required infrastructures but pass these to homeowners as an easier solution, even though they, the Town Halls, should have incorporated or ‘bonded’ these costs at first planning stage.

Special regulations for access to services
For those who have been denied access to mains water and electricity there is now the cost of a ‘special licence’ being sought by Town Halls the cost of which starts at €850.

Many homeowners are excluded from obtaining this license because.
• There is a denuncia against their home.
• They do not own the land on which their house stands.
• The land has not been segregated.
• They are unwilling to declare under the 4 year rule that they are responsible for the existence of an illegal house on rustic land.

Our fears for the future
It is reported that inspection teams have identified 21,000 illegal houses in the Almanzora Valley and La Axarquia alone. This is a huge problem!

1. We are fearful that current actions, especially those relating to any fines; demands for infrastructure payments; and the like; will lead to many home owners being put into a worse financial situation than they are in at present. This is already leading to much stress and anxiety for our members and, of course, many others.
2. We are fearful that this could also lead to many being forced to return to their homeland having lost their life savings because they cannot afford to legalise their home.
3. We fear that our constructors, our Town Halls, our architects and our lawyers will get away with what they have done because continents drift faster than a Spanish civil court case. A moot point anyway if you can’t afford to sue.
4. We are concerned that NEW areas of urbanisations will be included in some plans before the legalisation of properties already being occupied.
5. We believe that if the current plan of action continues without significant change many owners will not see a solution in their life-time. You will be aware that under Spanish Planning Laws an urbanisation can only grow by a permitted amount over a certain period. This restriction has knowingly been far exceeded in many districts. Many owners will therefore not be made legal as authorities ‘hide’ behind this rule. The very one they broke in the first place! This law needs to be altered to allow for the existence of homes on rustic land for purposes not related to agriculture. You can imagine the constant fear and concern this brings when people see a distinct possibility that they will pass the problem and the possible financial burden on to their children.
6. We fear that we will be blamed and held responsible. In many cases home owners have been ‘duped’ into becoming a promoter of their property therefore liable to future infrastructure costs and any possible penalties (civil and criminal) that should have been the responsibility of the builders. We are already experiencing a problem where builders charge owners for various utilities and then fail to pay the supply company. Some owners have now been cut off from these services and asked to pay the outstanding charges or pay a large sum for re-connection.
7. We fear that we are seen as a ‘cash generator’ for our impoverished Councils. 50% of our members do not have access to mains water or electricity. Some local councils now require that the owners pay exorbitant amounts to be given permission to connect to these services.
8. We have no certainty! Some members have fully legalised documents for their property, now to be told that the Junta of Andalucía has withdrawn building licences for ‘irregularities’, in many cases court proceeding are being actioned. Their documents have official stamps from the very people that now take these actions.
9. We fear there is no justice! While many of our Human Rights have and continue to be abused, we know that we would struggle to see justice due to the slowness of Spain’s judicial system. While it would be our right to do so, it is a futile action and one that would probably take as long, if not longer, than the process they are currently taking. Many cannot afford it. To this extent we implore you to continue to seek, on our behalf, a fair and speedy solution.
10. We fear (with some justification) that we will be pilloried in the Spanish press, made scapegoats and portrayed as somehow complicit in the scandal of urban abuse. For example, an article in Teleprensa published 2nd September 2009 titled ‘Harsh attack by the British Community in Cantoria on the issue of illegal houses’ asserts that British residents knowingly purchased property on non urbanised land, made ‘black money’ payments to avoid Spanish tax, bought houses cheaply and most bizarrely of all, moved to Spain to take advantage of a free health care system.
11. We fear that our homes will be left in limbo, outside of any known planning regulation or ‘fuera de ordenacion’ with no legal status, no paper work and simply left to return to the dust as a forgotten statistic of the Spanish planning scandal. We observe that this fear is already becoming a reality as the town plans emerge.

What do we want?

1. COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATION: A national commission of investigation be established, with representatives of the administration and citizens’ groups (including those for the protection of homeowners’ rights and the ecologists), to investigate the existing grave planning and environmental problems, to draw up a report on the causes of said problems and their possible solutions, as well as recommendations for the future.

2. ARBITRATION: The creation of a special administrative commission that includes a provincial public ombudsman, advised by independent investigation services, including representatives from the administration and from citizens’ groups (including those for the defence of individual property owners and ecology groups), and with arbitration powers in relation to disputes concerning these problems, available to affected parties free of charge.

3. RESPONSIBILITY: The liability of developers, the administration and pertinent third parties, for having given rise to the grave planning and environmental problems which exist, must be made enforceable and real. Any process of regularisation should, as far as possible, include binding agreements (including adequate guarantees) between those who have caused the irregularities and the administration, and these must include the opportune measures so that those who caused the irregularities compensate for the damage caused.

4. PRINCIPLES TO BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT: The following principles should be recognized and reflected in urban law.

(1) In urban development priority must be given to the true needs of the cities and towns affected, sustainability from an environmental point of view and the need to preserve the historical and cultural identity of the affected areas.

(2) The need for full compliance with community law and fundamental rights, including the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

(3) In the case of demolition of property acquired in good faith by citizens real, effective and prior compensation must be guaranteed. Such compensation must be made prior to any loss and at proper rates and conforming to the case law of the Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.

(4) The legitimate right of purchasers to property acquired legally must be recognised and criteria established for the application of Art. 33 of the Spanish Constitution with respect to public and social interest in order to prevent and prohibit the infringement of people’s property rights by decisions of local and regional authorities;

5. TRANSPARENCY AND PARTICIPATION: Notice of any planning or environmental proceedings should be communicated individually to all those affected, directly or indirectly; as well as publicised widely; publication in the relevant Bulletins not being sufficient. The possibility of electronic access (Internet) to planning and environmental documents in the process of being approved or approved be ensured. Information in the Cadastral and Land Registry must coincide, and the Land Registry must include graphical information. It must be ensured that the information on the land registry includes information about the status of the property with respect to urban regulations as well as environmental and cultural restrictions or similar.

6. JUDICIAL SYSTEM: There is an urgent need to reform the judicial system to avoid the lack of effective rights before the courts; shortening of the real length of proceedings; computerizing and providing adequate resources.

7. ESTATE AGENTS: Should 1) be licensed or have passed an examination of sufficient knowledge and capacity; 2) have adequate insurance to cover all civil liabilities; 3) be clearly regulated in their activities.

8. PROMOTERS & CONSTRUCTORS: These must be subject to bonds, guarantees or insurance to cover possible liabilities to third parties (including to buyers), and to the administration; for possible planning or environmental breaches or infractions; and proof that such guarantees are in place must be a pre-requisite to present and manage any planning instrument.

9. PROTOCOL: An obligatory protocol for the buying and selling of real estate should be established for the benefit of the consumer, setting out the precise steps and standardised procedures , similar to those in other EU member states (for example the United Kingdom).

10. BASIC SERVICES: As a matter of priority and on humanitarian grounds, any house which has been occupied in the past three years should be temporarily permitted electricity and water services until the status of the home is clarified.

Appendix A – Reporting of Urban Abuse in Andalucia.

'Costurero' vincula 85 viviendas en Zurgena a movimientos inusuales en cuentas de ediles detenidos
La operación 'Costurero' contra la corrupción urbanística en Zurgena (Almería), que derivó el pasado día 2 en la detención del alcalde, Cándido Trabalón y el edil de Urbanismo, Manuel Tijeras (PA), se centra en investigar si se produjo prevaricación y cohecho en la autorización municipal para la construcción de 85 viviendas, de entre el millar bajo sospecha construido desde 2004.

Un juzgado de Almería imputa al exalcalde del PP de Albox y portavoz del partido por delitos urbanísticos y el PSOE pide su dimisión

Francisco Granero

ALBOX.- El Juzgado de Primera Instancia e Instrucción número 2 de Huercal Overa cita a Francisco Granero Granados exalcalde de Albox y actual portavoz del PP a comparecer en el juzgado el 27 de marzo a las 11,30 horas.

El objeto de la citación de Francisco Granero Granados es ser oído en concepto de imputado, de acuerdo con lo dispuesto en el articulo 486 de la Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal, como responsable de un presunto delito de Construcción no autorizada y por tanto un presunto delito contra la ordenación del territorio……

Imputan al alcalde de La Viñuela en cinco causas por delitos urbanísticos
La Fiscalía de Medio Ambiente acusa al regidor socialista Juan Millán de conceder cinco licencias en suelos no urbanizables
18.03.09 -

Nueva denuncia urbanística contra el alcalde de La Viñuela, el socialista Juan Millán. La Fiscalía de Medio Ambiente de Málaga ha presentado cinco denuncias contra el regidor por conceder por decreto varias licencias, presuntamente irregulares, para la construcción de viviendas en suelo no urbanizable, lo que para el fiscal podría constituir cinco delitos contra la ordenación del territorio, uno de ellos continuado. ……

La Fiscalía ve a funcionarios y autoridades como «cómplices» del urbanismo ilegal
La crítica la extiende a la sociedad, que refleja «pasividad» en el tema La Memoria de la Fiscalía de Medio Ambiente y Urbanismo advierte de la progresiva sofisticación de las tramas de corrupción urbanística
28.05.08 -
A. P.
La Fiscalía de Medio Ambiente de Almería no se corta ni un pelo a la hora de definir y dar cuentas de la situación creada en la provincia con las casas ilegales y otras irregularidades urbanísticas. La Memoria de la Fiscalía de Medio Ambiente y Urbanismo 2007 recoge que en el caso almeriense la proliferación de construcciones ilegales no se entiende sin la «pasividad, cuando no complicidad, de autoridades y funcionarios de las administraciones competentes». Y añade que «llama poderosamente la atención la actuación de cargos, representantes y funcionarios de ayuntamientos», así como «una serie de profesionales como técnicos (arquitectos, ingenieros...), gestores y compañías de servicios...» que favorecen con su actuación el 'florecimiento' de corrupción pública y privada.

La crítica se extiende hasta la sociedad en general a la que también atribuye «pasividad» ya que «salvo excepciones de organizaciones ecologistas o algún particular que ha denunciado actuaciones ilegales, ha permanecido indiferente». No obstante, la crisis en la construcción también está afectando a este entramado como se desprende del hecho de que la Fiscalía almeriense pasara de 118 diligencias penales en 2006 a 88 en 2007.

Y en Almería no queda sólo la cosa. La corrupción urbanística es España, dice el informe a nivel nacional, se «sofistica» y las tramas tienen un carácter progresivamente «más organizado». El texto abunda sobre todo en las situaciones detectadas en las provincias del litoral meridional, en particular en provincias como Cádiz, Málaga, Almería , Murcia y otras. Las fiscalías regionales más afectadas hablan de «avalancha» de casos urbanísticos que puede acabar, dicen, por monopolizar los recursos y efectivos de que disponen para investigar estos casos, muy complejos, en detrimento de otras cuestiones medioambientales. Casos que no se limitan a construcciones particulares, sino a grandes complejos urbanísticos que prosperan, pese a vulnerar preceptos legales y de protección ambiental, debido a la inoperancia de las administraciones implicadas. También en materia de vivienda, el fiscal de Sala de Medio Ambiente, Antonio Vercher, aboga en la memoria por modificar el Código Penal para perseguir a los ayuntamientos y sus alcaldes que vulneren la Ley del Suelo y destinen menos del 30% del suelo edificable para viviendas de protección oficial (VPO); también a aquellos que incurran en malversación de este bien público con abusos en recalificaciones y cambios injustificados de uso del suelo municipal.

Según la memoria, en 2007 se tramitaron en la Fiscalía Especial de Medio Ambiente 1.220 diligencias de investigación penal en materia medioambiental y 1.781 en ordenación del territorio. El saldo revela una disminución de asuntos en el primer capítulo respecto de 2006, primer año de funcionamiento de la Fiscalía, que se achaca al fin del 'efecto novedad'. En cambio los temas relacionados con el urbanismo siguieron creciendo, de 1.634 casos en 2006 a 1.781 en 2007 a falta de los datos provinciales de Guadalajara.

En su informe, la Fiscalía critica la «lentitud en el desarrollo» del organismo, y la falta sistemática de medios. Una y otra comprometen «la practicidad y eficacia» que se espera de ellas. También da cuenta de la intensa actividad del SEPRONA de la Guardia Civil en el control de vertederos ilegales y potencialmente peligrosos para las masas forestales y parajes de gran valor natural. Se han llegado a censar 2.269 vertederos, de los que 382 fueron eliminados, 41 están a punto de desaparecer y en otros 274 «se ha aminorado el riesgo».

Appendix B – Case Studies

Sample case 1 – Inadequate documentation

Written by Charles and Geraldine Day, La Hortichuela, Albox.

My wife and I bought a development plot in Albox, in 2002, supposedly with water and electricity from Almeria Homes, who recommended a builder, a company called La Paz. These two companies’ were connected by a common law relationship (they were a couple with children). Unfortunately we were too far down the line with our purchase, when we found out that our land was in fact classified as rustic, and that there was a building ban in place on this kind of land. The house build was completed in September 2003 but due to problems we had in the UK we did not move in until July 2006. We then found ourselves in the middle of a massive problem, including Town Hall and planning abuses, plus corruption by the local legal profession, architects and builders. We later discovered that we were not an isolated case but that the problem was rife throughout the Almanzora Valley and in fact most of Spain.

We now find ourselves in a situation where we cannot be connected to water or electricity because we do not have of a habitation certificate. We did have builder’s supply electricity until July 2008 when it was terminated. We do not have mains water and fortunately have a deposit tank which we have to fill by way of a tanker, at vast expense. Without electricity we are unable to pump this water into our home. We thought that when we moved to Spain (an EU Member State) we would be retiring to a better climate and way of life for our latter years, but we have been placed in a most stressful environment because, like others, our basic human rights are being breached by this country.

We have attended various meetings with the Town Hall representatives to try and resolve our problems but are constantly told that ‘the law is the law’. Where was ‘the law’ when these abuses were being carried out. Dare I say it, but the perpetrators were quite happy to take our money but are not prepared to take responsibility for the mess we now find ourselves in.

Sample case 2 – Impact of Existence of Denuncia

Written by Mrs Carole Maneely and Mr Tom Jones – Aljambra, Albox.

The original details of the villa from North Property stated we would have water and electricity. We have also paid for the water connection from the road and the meter and then successfully had the mains water connected - we have no complaint there.

• We are one couple amongst a group of 13 villa owners in Aljambra who entered into a contract, dated April 2006, with a local electrician to provide a full electricity supply, to be paid for in four installments. This was to replace the temporary builder’s supply connected when we moved in.
• The project was prepared and sent to the relevant department. This was later agreed and stamped in Almeria.
• Initially electrical work went ahead as detailed in the contract – to date the group have paid a total of 100,000 Euros.
• After the snow brought down power lines nearby, during early 2007, the electricity company visited our area and disconnected the cables providing our temporary supply. Our group of villa owners now has to use expensive, individual generators to supply power for our homes.
• We have boletins for electricity and permission for electricity to be connected from the previous Mayor of Albox. We have been told by the Ministry of Works at the Junta that they cannot pass the works completed so far because there is a denuncia against us for being illegal properties and we cannot be finally connected to the main grid. However, the project was approved by the Junta six months after the denuncia was in place. We wish to continue with the electrical work, have the infrastructure connection to the main grid and pay for the electricity we use.
• We wish to be treated fairly and be allowed to live our lives without the hardship and high costs that lack of mains electricity causes.

Sample case 3 – Impact of Legal Proceedings
Written by Bruce Hobday and Dan Thornycroft, residents of El Fas

W belong to a group of mainly British third age people who bought houses in El Fas, Cantoria, in the Province of Andalucia. We are from all walks of life, most of us were very careful when we made the big decision to embrace the Spanish way of life and purchased our houses. Checks were made on agents, Spanish solicitors were employed, notaries processed the escrituras, and we were constantly assured that all was in order and that our houses in Spain were completely legal according to Spanish law.

Our Dutch builders have received around 4 million euros from us just on our small estate. .In May 2008 we were contacted to see if they wished to declare an interest in the court case of our builders Southern Spain Consultants who faced charges of building without licences on rustic land.In September 2008 the mains electricity supply was disconnected and the occupants were forced under threat of a 6,000 euro fine for stealing electricity, to connect to a generator.

It is inconceivable that the Spanish authorities were unaware of the situation regarding the illegal building, and thereby condoned it. Where did they think the extra revenues were coming from?

All we want is to live out our lives in peace, and enjoy this wonderful country, among the good Spanish people. Surely this is our fundamental basic human right?

Sample case 4 - Local Legality, Regional Illegality
Written by Leslie Nash, resident of La Vinuela

In November 2001 the La Vinuela ayuntamiento issued 12 building licences to an enterprising couple from the United Kingdom to authorise the building of individual architect designed houses in a beautiful area to the west of the reservoir. Many other houses were being built at the same time adjoining surrounding villages and standing alone in the countryside. The local press was full of advertisements to buy in the area.

It was not surprising that the plots with building permission were quickly sold since the electricity pylons and mains water supply were visible and no secret was made of Junta plans to build an asphalt road from the main road serving the area to the location of the projected houses. The road was subsequently built. Buyers obtained the assurance of the ayuntamiento that the plans were properly authorised: one buyer's solicitor contacted the Junta directly to obtain confirmation that all was well. Eleven houses were built and all paperwork was applied and paid for including first occupancy licences, water and electricity meters, IBI etc. Escrituras were issued and the Land Registry registered the homes in their official records.

In May 2009 the local policeman delivered notices to the majority of the owners to say that their licenses to build were in question and that if the Junta were successful in their challenge the process of demolition would automatically begin. They were required to name a solicitor as representing them at court where their licenses would be challenged. Nine working days were allowed to do this.

Eight of the owners have since prepared files including copies of their paperwork as evidence that they followed the correct procedures in buying their houses and have met their financial running costs and taxes. They want their licences to be reinstated. These papers are now with the Junta de Andalucia.

Already thousands of euros have passed to solicitors as if the owners were the guilty parties rather than the solicitors, ayuntamiento staff, notaries and the Junta who have failed to offer a secure and honest method of purchasing their houses. Of course, the notional value of these houses has plummeted and the ability to move away when personal tragedy strikes has now been denied, since no one wants a home subject to a demolition threat. The Spanish property law is in need of complete revision in order to protect the rights of innocent home-owners who, in this case, through no fault of their own, have become embroiled in what appears to be an internal procedural dispute between the Junta and the local town halls of Andalucia.

Sample case 5 - Local Legality, Regional Illegality
Written by Ivor Pringle, Alcaucin, Axarquia.

My name is Ivor Pringle my wife's name is Judith. We own a house in Spain, close to the village of Alcaucin in the province of Malaga. The area in which we live is known as the Axarquia.

We live here as residents, after leaving the UK in 2001 for health reasons. In brief I served in the Army from 1965 - 1997. As a result of injuries sustained during my service I was advised by medical specialists to seek a warmer climate.

My wife and I left the UK in May 2001 for Spain and a new life. Following a short rental period we found our dream home. In July 2001 we bought the house we still live in and set to work improving it.

Our world has now fallen apart because on the 14 October 2009 we were served with notification from the town hall in Alcaucin that the building license for our home had been cancelled back in December 2000 and the house was therefore illegal. Three days later on 17 October we were served further notification that we have 2 months in which to voluntarily demolish our home or the local authorities would do so and present us with a bill for the total costs. As of today we have 53 days to save our home.

When we bought the property we had no idea the house was illegal and we did not know until 14 October, 10 days ago. The original owner a Spaniard, knew from December 2000 that it was illegal and promptly put the property up for sale in Jan 2001. We paid cash for the property in July 2001.

In October 2008 notification of the license being cancelled was again sent to the original owner, who after selling the property over 7 years previously to us, took no action to inform us. Why should he, he had our money and had left the scene of the crime.

Following a very stressful weekend 17/18 October my wife and I started the week arranging lawyers to fight our case in the courts. They believe that it will be a difficult case and cannot guarantee a court ruling in our favour. Apart from the fraudulent dealings of the original owner our lawyers are hoping to win the case on humanitarian grounds. We are after all a totally innocent party and if we lose our home we will in effect be homeless. Like most elderly 'expats' our only source of income is pensions, I have an Army pension and because of my health disability a war veterans pension and my wife her old age pension. At present our future at the age of 61 years does not look very bright.

My wife and I like so many other 'expats' purchased our home through estate agents, using solicitors to act on our behalf and complying fully with all the relevant laws for owning a property in Spain. The result is that many of us have been lied to, have had illegal building licenses issued and are now prisoners, if not in our homes but in Spain as it is very difficult to sell a property without a valid license.

We earnestly request your assistance in stopping the destruction of our home, reinstating the legality of the house, and to give hope to many other Britons in a similar position.

Sample case 6 - Local Legality, Regional Illegality
Written by Helen Prior, also pp. Leonard

My husband and I came to Spain in 2002 on a 4 day inspection tour with Medsea Estates. We were shown 6 parcels of land for sale on an area called La Loma which is just outside Vera. The land had been split into plots of 10,000 square metres with outline building permissions. At that time there were probably 90 houses in the La Loma area. We found a builder, a house design, a solicitor and a bank, paid deposits and went back to the UK. In August 2002 we received a letter from our solicitor to say that the builder had received all necessary licences and would we sign the contract. Work commenced on the house around October of 2002.

The house was completed 15th May 2003 and we moved to Spain as full time residents on the 22nd. The house was beautiful and life was good. We started to landscape the gardens and spent a lot of money making the house and gardens something to be proud of.

In May of 2006 we received a telephone call from our builder to say we had to go to Vera Ayuntaniento. He did not know why, but one of the secretaries would go with us to interpret. We were handed a letter which the secretary read and she informed us that we had 15 days to knock the house down or the Junta de Andalusia would do it and charge us. We could not believe this and went straight to our solicitor. He said it was a mistake and try not to worry. We learnt within a few days that it was not a mistake, our licence had been revoked.

Our solicitor informed us that a secret Court Case had been held without any representation from us. He had not been told about it, our builder had not been told about it, nor had we. The only people who knew were the Junta de Andalusia and Felix Lopez the Mayor of Vera. Our solicitor told us again try not to worry, our house was 100% legal. But he had employed , on our behalf, two Barristers to challenge this through the Constitutional Court in Madrid. We were told that while this was in Litigation the Junta could not demolish the house.

However, on the 9th of January 2008 they arrived with police, bulldozers and lorries. Our water and electricity metres had been removed and although there were solicitors, barristers, neighbours, TV cameras and many police at the scene, the house was demolished.

The reason given was that we would cause an Urban Nucleus. There were 90 houses here before we arrived and the Junta approved the building of a further 9 houses after ours. How could we possibly be the cause of an Urban Nucleus? Surely if one house is illegal they must all be illegal, but ours has been the only demolition. We also find that the further down the pile we dig the more bizarre our findings become.

We were also given, by a source who wishes to remain anonymous, a copy of a Junta De Andalusia meeting which was held in October 2003. In these minutes, it states quite clearly that the Junta realises that stopping the build on the Prior house (we had actually being living in the house 6 months) would not stop the Urban Nucleus. It would only cause financial hardship to the Priors. Further into the report it states that the Junta should be very careful because knocking down any houses would have grave financial and social repercussions in the area. These were obviously ignored.

Representatives from the local ayuntamiento visited our site (after the house was knocked down) and measured distances between the road, the neighbours, the boundaries, etc. and left, as very happy people, because they were convinced we could not be the cause of an urban nucleus.

The bottom line is that every Spanish person whose opinion we know believes that the demolition was a political act because the local party is in disagreement with the Regional Government, We have requested compensation but obviously nobody wants to pay. The local Mayor in Vera said he should not pay because the house was legal, the Junta say they should not pay because they were only carrying out the judge’s order. The judge says that he only acted because he was being bullied by the Junta.

In April 2009 the constitutional court in Madrid judged that the proceedings leading to the demolition our house were not carried out correctly. We were not informed about the proceedings, not given the opportunity to put our case forward and therefore denied our right to justice. The proceedings were invalid, and so was the demolition order -our house should not have been knocked down !
However, to make matters even worse, the Junta de Andalucia are now going back to court again to ratify the decision to have our house demolished. This time, hopefully, it will not be a SECRET Court Case but we shall be informed of the time and date and will be able to have legal representation.

Almost 2 years later we are still living in our garage without water or electricity, abandoned by the local authority, regional authority and national authority. Should two old-age pensioners be treated in this manner?

Sample Case 7 – Land Grab
Written by John and Joyce Bowling and Alan and Kate Keeling Bedar, Levante

Article 1 of The First Protocol, Protection of Property establishes the Rights of individuals to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, unless there is an overriding Public Interest. The Authorities have to maintain a fair balance between the Individual and Society in General. If the possessions are affected by Public Interest, compensation should be paid.

15 years ago we bought land within what we were told was, the Urban Nucleus of the village of El Pinar de Bedar, Almeria , and with the full knowledge of the Ayuntamiento in Bedar we built two houses. The Spanish Land Registry shows we are owners of these properties, as does the Catastral.
Due to extremely questionable actions by the Ayuntamiento and a Developer, Landsur S.L., we now find our land has been redesignated as urbanisable, rather than urban and that we are included within the ambit of a development sector, and included in a Plan Parcial. As a result we are being subjected, by the Developer, to an appropriation of about 50% of our land, and in addition the payment of many thousands of pounds towards his infrastructure costs, despite those services already being in place at our houses.
We consider that this is unjust as there is clearly no Overriding Public Interest in this case, the only Interest being financial gain for the Ayuntamiento and the Developer. The village has already been extensively over developed with miles of infrastructure installed for houses that have not been built, or are unlikely to be so, due to low demand.
Clearly our Human Rights have been infringed as we are certainly not peacefully enjoying our possessions, and indeed are involved in expensive Legal Action to protect our position.
Sample Case 8 – Land Grab
Story of Robert Barlow and Marjory Easton of Bedar Almeria.

In a rural area near Bedar, a picturesque village surrounded by beautiful countryside in Almeria province, a retired British couple Robert Barlow and Marjory Easton, purchased 172,000 sqm of rustic land in 1991. They obtained all the relevant building permissions in 1992 after which construction work on their 600 sqm house began. In April 1994 they moved into their new home believing they could live out their retirement in peace, having purchased more than sufficient land to insulate themselves and after taking considerable legal and professional advice to ensure that they were 100% legal and safe from any future developments.
In January 2005, to their astonishment, they were approached by the same development company which had originally sold them their land and told that part of their land had been included in the town’s urbanisation proposals and the developer’s development plans, known as a Plan Parcial. Apparently, the development company had been making various Plan Parcial applications through the years and 33,000 sqm of their latest Plan was identified as belonging to the couple. Needless to say, the couple had never been informed of any development proposals at any time. At that first meeting between the couple and the development company, which was also attended by two professional advisors, the couple were given three choices, namely:
a. Do nothing in the hope that nothing was likely to happen anyway;
b. Become a minority partner in the development and be required to contribute financially;
c. Agree to have their 33,000 sqm segregated altogether from the development and for the land to therefore remain non-urbanisable/rustic.

The couple, who had no intention whatsoever of getting involved in any development scheme, naturally chose the third option. Agreements in both Spanish and English were drawn up and signed on 23 March 2005 which clearly stated that the 33,000 sqm of the couple’s land “had been included within Sector 2 (the relevant Plan Parcial reference) due to a “material (serious) error” – without the knowledge or consent of the land owners.” The agreement also stated that the 33,000 sqm would be segregated from Sector 2 of the Plan Parcial and that the developer undertook to carry out a punctual modification of Sector 2 involving initiation of a new procedure based on a Sector of reduced size without the participation of the couple as land owners.
Attached to this agreement was a detailed topographical survey of the 172,000 sqm of land, the boundaries of which had been signed by the same developer in July 1995. On this survey, the 33,000 sqm “material error”, which included the couples’ house, gardens and swimming pool, was clearly identified as belonging to the couple as part of their original 172,000 sqm holding. The couple’s professional advisor was able at the time to demonstrate that the 33,000 sqm referred to by the developer’s latest Plan Parcial was in fact different. In the event, after agreeing on the correct identification of the relevant 33,000 sqm, the agreement and topographical survey duly signed by all parties concerned was then presented to the local town hall which registered and stamped both documents on 6 April 2005.
On 2 June 2005, a unanimously signed minutes of the plenary session of the town hall acknowledging reduction of the surface area of Sector 2 and the agreement between the couple and the development company was received. The couple then thought that everything necessary had been done to protect their land from any further interference. To their great indignation and shock, nearly a year and a half later on 27 January 2007, they were informed by their planning consultant that the developers were no longer proceeding with the segregation modification previously agreed upon. Apparently the original development company had sold their land adjoining the couple’s to a development company based in the provincial capital of Almeria in September 2006 and the original developer professed to have no knowledge of the current situation. The instigator of the latest strategy shift by speculators/developers appears to be legislation ratified in January 2007 decreeing that 30% of all residential development projects be destined for “social (council) housing”, thereby significantly reducing potential profits for developers/speculators.
On 2 February 2007, the couple were formally notified by the town hall of the latest Plan Parcial and the official notice in the provincial Boletin (official gazette which is not widely publicised and difficult for laypeople to understand) appeared. This notice allowed only 28 days to file formal objections and the relevant and extensive back-up documents had to be obtained subsequently by the couple’s planning consultant. Then followed lengthy and costly research by the couple’s planning consultant and specialist abogado, as well as an unproductive meeting with the mayor and secretary. With only two days to spare, a detailed set of professionally worded objections was formally filed. These were supported by 11 separate sets of professionally worded objections from adjoining neighbours and a considerable amount of informal support from others in the area. A press conference was called where some of the principal issues were made public, including:
a. Proposed forfeiture of 33,000 sqm of land against the will of legal owners;
b. Demand of 670,000 euros in financial contribution towards infrastructure for the proposed development (which could be substantially higher depending on final costs);
c. Construction of residential dwellings in protected areas and without previous study of ecological and other infrastructure considerations

Continuous pressure and negative publicity in recent months leading up to hotly contested local elections, as well as the couple’s well defended legal stand, may well have contributed to a softening of attitude from the town hall. Meetings were held with the mayor and secretary during which verbal agreement to segregate the couple’s land from the Plan Parcial and maintain it as non-urbanisable/rustic have been reached. However, the mayor and secretary do not yet appear to be prepared to give further commitments regarding other “unjustified land grab” cases.
On 25 April 2007, a meeting took place in Almeria between the couple’s abogado, planning consultant, the local mayor, the delegate from the Public Works and Planning Department of the regional Junta de Andalucia government and the technical head of the Junta’s Planning Section where it was agreed that the local town hall would shortly pass a resolution to specifically exclude the couple’s 33,000 sqm from the Plan Parcial and keep it as non-urbanisable land. On 2 May 2007, the local town hall approved the non-urbanisation proposal put to them in allegations submitted on 25 April 2007. On 9 May 2007 the provincial Environmental (Medioambiente) Ministry confirmed informally that the land in question was in an environmentally protected area and that permission for development was most unlikely. However an environmental study would be required and this could take about two years to complete. The couple is now advised that their land is likely to be safe. However, final ratification will not occur until the area’s regional plan (PGOU) is published and agreed by all concerned bodies, also possibly taking another two years. Until then, nothing can be regarded as 100% guaranteed.
Whatever the final outcome of this particular case, victims of unjustified land grab and other illegal practices must remain vigilant regarding all changes in Spanish planning and building legislation as well as documentation relating to their own and related cases. For example, in the case above, as late as 26 April 2007 further written allegations were received and stamped by the local town hall which included reference to an application made by the new developer to segregate the couple’s land as early as October 2006. This request was given initial approval by the town hall but not published anywhere (not even in the Boletin) nor processed. The segregation was subsequently nullified by the town hall in January 2007 when the new developer decided to proceed with the entirety of the initial Sector, presumably as a result of modified financial considerations caused by the new social housing requirements. Another ruling which could adversely affect victims of unjustified land grab is that from July of this year, compensation, if such exists, for seized land will be calculated at non-urbanisable/rustic values, not urban.

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