Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Submission made to Margrete Auken report

Please find herewith my submission with regard to the property scandal in Spain. I am one of a group of people who purchased properties in Spain.

This letter was sent to Senor Chaves (President of the Junta de Andalucia) (translated into Spanish) and other members of the Junta de Andalucia in October 2008:

For the attention of Senor Chaves (President of the Junta de Andalucia).

I belong to a group of mainly British third age people who bought houses in El Fas, Cantoria. 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.

You would find it hard to imagine the horror, stress and strain of discovering that your house, into which you have put your life savings was to become subject to demolition because it was illegal. The first any of us knew about this was when we discovered that the builders were being prosecuted and that the public prosecutor of Huercal Overa wanted to demolish 19 houses on El Fas where we live. Oblivious to the fact that we were all victims of fraud, and making us double victims by threatening our houses.

We fully understand that the laws of Spain have to be upheld, but where was the law when we were cheated and lied to? We are now told that no building licences have been issued by Cantoria for 25 years. Why are we being punished when we had done all we could to ensure that we complied with the law and bought in good faith.

It is inconceivable that the Spanish authorities (represented by yourself) were unaware of the situation regarding the illegal building, and thereby condoned it. Where did you think the extra revenues were coming from? Why has Spain been booming in recent years? Where did all the businesses that profited from the mainly British investments think that the money came from? It really is shameful that they should suggest that we should pay more. What about sharing some of the profits that have made out of us. Profits from crime, which the government has shared in with the taxes which have been paid.

Our dutch builders have received over 4 euros million from us. We now find that we have no electricity except from a very expensive to run generator (generously provided by the Mayor of Cantoria), and water from who knows where. All because we have been lied and cheated to, and cannot get the correct paperwork for our houses.

Tens of thousands of people now find themselves in the same situation. Why was this allowed to happen? This is the shame of Spain! The realisation that so many houses are now classed as illegal was the main cause of the property slump in Spain, long before the current worldwide economic problems.

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

We hope that you can do all in your power to help us, and would request the following:
1. Take away the threat of demolition.
2. Allow us to gain mains electricity and water. We can then contribute to the local councils and pay our bills correctly as we would all wish to do.
3. Sequester the assets of the builders and developers who have acted illegally, and use this to carry out any further work to enable developments such as ours to become fully legal. Their assets are the result of criminal activity and within European law can be confiscated.
3. Further punish those responsible by applying the criminal laws of Spain.
4. Use any money remaining to compensate the victims (legal expenses, etc.).

These actions would bring much needed revenue into the towns and the service industries, and would cost very little. We estimate that the population of our few houses in El Fas spend in the region of ?4000 per week in the locality. Multiply this by the many thousands more properties and you can see that this is a massive amount of money being put into the Spanish economy. Most of us are on the padron, and have our residencia.

Some good news in the press could help enormously in the revival of the building and property industry in the region, and we would all do our utmost in ensuring that the good news travelled fast.

At the end of January 2009 the following response was received (original Spanish response and our own rudimentary translation into English:

(Spanish version not included here).

Reply translated into English from letter to Sntr Chaves Prresident of Andalucia
The General Register of the Council for Public Works and Transport has received a letter signed by you on behalf of a group of home-owners from El Fas in the district of Cantoria, dated 27th Oct 08. In it a series of issues are raised and questions asked which we hope to answer here.
Under the Spanish Constitution, Public Works acts in full accordance with the law (article 103 of the constitution), carrying out the duties ascribed to it in each case, bearing in mind that the exercise of those duties is compulsory (Article 12, Law 30/1992 of the Judicial Orders on Public Works and Common Administrative Procedure).
In the case of urban matters, it is the sole responsibility of town halls to grant urban licences (article 171, Law 7/2002 of Town Planning of Andalucíía) which should be awarded in strict compliance with the urban and planning controls in place at the time (article 172.4°° of Law 7/2002). In the same way, the direct and sole responsibility for the remaining jurisdictions lies with the municipalities (articles 92 of the Statute of Autonomy for Andalucíía article 25.2.d) of Law 7/1985, of 2nd April, of Basis for Local Responsibility, and articles 179 and following, Law 7/2002 of 17 Dec, Town Planning in Andalucíía). Carrying out of urban related duties in Andalucíía is limited to practical matters defined in article 188 of the aforementioned Law 7/2002.
In summary, the Autonomous Administration carries out its duties taking into account the rules and urban planning, and with it achieving respect for the environment and rational use of land (article 37.1.20 and 22 of the Statute of Autonomy), as well as effective exercise of the constitutional and statutory rights of the citizens of Andalucíía, which can only be met within the framework of the planning complex(?)
In reply to your 1st question we would like to inform you that jurisdictional matters, passing and carrying out judgements, lie entirely with the Courts, who are obliged to carry out sentences and decisions of the Judges and Courts, as well as collaborate fully with the latter in the judgement process (articles 117 and 118 of the Spanish Constitution). For its part, the the Dept of the Public Prosecutor controls the action of the judiciary to protect the law, the rights of citizens and public interest advised by the law (article 124 of Spanish Constitution). The Junta of Andalucíía has no jurisdiction to “remove the threat of demolition”, with regard to – according to your own letter – decisions made by the Dept of Public Prosecutor, as it is the responsibility of the Junta de Andalucíía to give full support to activity carried out by the Office of the Public Prosecutor.
In relation to the second question (“allow access to mains electric and water”), we wish to inform you that the Town Planning Act of Andalucíía obliges administering companies to insist on proper urban licences before contracting those services (article 175). Such companies are obliged to comply with the law, the Junta de Andalucíía having no jurisdiction as such.
Regarding your request that “the assets of the builders and developers who have acted illegally be confiscated” and that “the money be used to compensate the victims”, we would like to refer again to the Courts who have legitimate jurisdiction over the penal process in the area of administrative or civil disputes. In the same way, your request that “those responsible should be punished with the full force of the law” again directs itself to decisions under the remit of Penal Jurisdiction, in this case bearing in mind that the power to approve penal law belongs to the State (Article 149.1 of the Constitution) which is beyond the remit of this Autonomous Administration.
Independently of what is stated above, since the General Body of Inspection of Town, Country and Dwelling Planning, in developing a General Plan of Inspection, is developing a way of working with Cantoria Town Hall so that it can carry out its duties on urban matters more efficiently to provide a satisfactory outcome of general interests. In such an atmosphere of collaboration we are collaborating with the Town Hall in the adoption of measures which can allow lamedor solution to the problems created by the construction of dwellings on green belt, without necessary planning licences.
The Director General of Inspection of Town, Country and Housing Planning

I´´ve done my best with this but it’s clearly written by a lawyer (hence all the detailed legal references), in legalistic and beaurocratic language that is not meant to be understood by anyone with less than a Law Degree!! (Translator)

As you can hopefully see from above, the Spanish authorities have little or no regard for the victims of this property scandal. Indeed, the Public Prosecutor who wanted to demolish the houses in El Fas had no regard whatsoever for the victims, not even thinking it worth mentioning.

One of the rogue developers has been heard to say that ‘the British were like lambs waiting to be fleeced’. We now feel that the authorities are thinking the same, how can they extract more money from the victims.

Some members of our group are facing severe harrassment including death threats, both physically and by e-mail, a live shotgun cartridge placed on a front doorstep, and abusive and malicious e-mail campaigns.

There are moves in the pipeline to regularise most of the illegal properties, but that is only the start. There are then all of the other irregularities, ie, the land not being properly segregated, problems over who actually has title to the land, the payment of urban prices for rustic land, etc.

In the case of the 19 houses at El Fas, some of us have grouped together and employed a solicitor who is properly versed in Spanish law, and a barrister from Madrid. Their estimate of the costs to sort out the illegal mess is ?50,000 – ?60,000. Yes, that is 50 to 60 thousand euros. Where is that money supposed to come from.

As I have already stated, the authorities were complicit in this scandal. They have received taxes from the developers (where the developers have bothered to declare), and taxes from the profits made by the many businesses that have profited from the illegal building. All those people who have profited should now be paying for the problems to be sorted out.

The scale of the fraud is immense, not only are there rogue builders and developers, there are rogue property agents, solicitors, notaries, town councils and especially some mayors. All have played their part in this shameful scandal.

The authorities would appear to be trying to pretend that they knew nothing, and that they have no say in the judicial process. What rubbish! They could allow the majority of properties to be connected to the mains services tomorrow, if they so wished. At least that would go some way to helping the victims, many of whom are having to pay for very expensive to run generators for their electricity.

Apart from the horrendous legal costs, we are now threatened with the costs of infrastructure, which again can run into many thousands of euros. Where will the money come from? The victims should not need to pay even one cent more.

Most of the victims of this scandal are pensioners living on a set income, much reduced as the euro gets stronger. Many have had to return to the UK to beg for help from friends and family. Their properties in Spain are virtually worthless in the current economic climate. Many are trapped in Spain, existing as best they can.

There is a belief that the houses were purchased very cheaply because they were built on rustic land. Whilst that may be true in a few isolated cases, we certainly did not pay rustic prices. We have paid urban prices for rustic land, and the developers have made massive profits. More than 4 million euros from our 19 houses alone. Many of these developers are now pleading poverty, but we are assured that much of the money has now been salted away. Even if the properties were legal and had correct paperwork, where is the market for selling?

Many of these victims need help, help towards the costs and stress of living as victims of this massive fraud.

The Spanish authorities have no regard whatsoever for the victims of their housing policies, and have been quite happy to turn a blind eye as long as the economy was booming on the back of this scandal.

Unless action is swift, these problems are going to rumble on for years, many of the victims are in their twilight years, they do not have years to wait for their life to begin again.

What can we do to get the help and justice we deserve?

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