Spanish law could save Britons' costa homes By Fiona Govan in Madrid Last Updated: 2:06am GMT 21/11/2006
British homeowners who purchased illegally built property on the Spanish
costas have been told they have a chance of saving their homes from
demolition if they can prove they bought in good faith.
Around 100,000 homes, many owned by Britons, were declared illegal after it
emerged they were built with licenses wrongly handed out by corrupt or
inefficient planning officials. Last month, Antonio Vercher, the special
prosecutor appointed to tackle building fraud and corruption, declared that
all such buildings would have to be knocked and that the only recourse for
owners was to seek compensation through the courts.
But legal experts have said the authorities will only be able to demolish a
development if they have evidence that each individual owner bought in the
knowledge that the property breached building regulations.
Manuel Martin, the dean of the College of Registrars for Property in Western
Andalusia, said yesterday that homeowners are protected in Spanish law by
"the principle of public faith in the registry".
"This ensures that those who purchased homes in the belief that the
information supplied to them by officials was correct must be allowed to
keep ownership," he said.
The Andalusian Supreme Court of Justice confirmed that while it was
determined to pursue the demolition of those buildings that had had their
licenses annulled it would not send the bulldozers in before taking
statements from the owners of the threatened buildings.
The news of a line of defence has brought a glimmer of hope to the thousands
of Britons who inadvertently found themselves the victims of alleged
Gwilym Rhys-Jones, an adviser and investigator at the Costa del Sol Action
Group, which helps expatriates in the region to fight fraud, said it was the
first piece of good news property owners in Spain had heard for a long time.
"It is a straw for the desperate to clasp at," he said.
"In effect it means that if one homeowner in a development can prove that
they bought the property innocently the whole block can be saved. They can
hardly knock down a residential block and leave one apartment standing."
One elderly British couple spoke yesterday of their relief at finally
hearing something positive. "Only last week we heard that the government had
issued a demolition order on our building and we felt totally helpless,"
said Yvonne Burditt, 83, who lives with her husband Jack, 86, in an
apartment at Banana Beach on the outskirts of Marbella.
"But now at least we have something to go on. We have been trying to find
out our legal position but it just hasn't been clear, until now."
Before paying £170,000 for their beachfront apartment three years ago, the
Burditts consulted a local lawyer who assured them in writing that
everything was above board.
"If it's simply a case of proving our innocence I think we have a chance at
saving our home," said Mrs Burditt.
(( Note: The obvious question is the meaning of "information supplied by
officials". Who is an "official" for this purpose and what sort of
information would suffice? Does second hand information via the assurances
of an estate agent, a builder or a lawyer qualify- or only some form of
certification by the Town hall, or the land registry or the Catastral