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Wednesday November 26, 2014

Expat dreams turn to dust in Spain

Another one bites the dust

At lunchtime yesterday British expat retirees Frank and Janet Doel should have been sitting on their sunny terrace in the tiny hamlet of Las Terreras in Cantoria in Southern Spain peacefully enjoying al fresco Mediterranean fare and listening to birdsong. Instead their abandoned home and garden echoed with the smash and grab roar of bulldozers, diggers, wrecking balls and sledgehammers as their little slice of paradise in the sun was brutally demolished on the orders of the Andalusian regional government.

Back in 2008 there was an outcry when the home of retirees Len and Helen Prior was destroyed in Almeria in Andalusia on the orders of the same regional government because unknown to the couple, the house had been illegally built. Between 2002 and 2006 at the height of the Spanish building boom many illegal homes were constructed in the Almanzora Valley in Almeria by unscrupulous local developers working in collusion with rogue town halls. The issuing of bogus building licences was rife and expats – as well as Spaniards – who bought villas in all good faith, abiding by the correct procedures and formalities, were often completely duped and their trust abused.

According to AUAN, a campaigning group fighting to legalise homes in the locale, there are 12,697 illegal constructions in the Almanzora Valley alone and an estimated 300,000 illegal properties in the Andalusia region. For Frank and Janet Doel who in 2005 bought one of four villas in the Las Terreras development only to see their home razed to the ground, there is no compensation. Following a protracted legal battle the mayor who issued the false building licences received a short prison sentence for falsifying documents and the corrupt promoter of the development was convicted of a planning crime. He was ordered to compensate the four unwitting owners but having declared himself bankrupt, was allowed to get away seemingly scot-free while a demolition order went ahead. An apparent loophole in the criminal code in Spain makes it possible for demolitions to be carried out prior to compensation for the victims, in effect making them homeless.

Next to hear the crash of the wrecking ball are former next door neighbours of the couple, British retirees, Peter and Margaret Hegarty. Bizarrely neither the Spanish nor British governments appear to be able to halt the atrocity. AUAN president, Maura Hillen, who campaigns tirelessly for those whose dwellings are currently under threat maintains that ‘buying a property in Spain is a state run lottery.’ She wants the Spanish government to change the criminal code to protect purchasers and to guarantee that they receive compensation before their homes – and dreams – are irrevocably destroyed. In her opinion ‘Nobody in authority in Spain seems to give a damn.’

It is of course ironic that the Spanish government is desperately keen to lure overseas buyers to the country to snap up the thousands of abandoned flats and villas built in a frenzy during more prosperous times. In the circumstances it would seem wise for foreign investors not to dip a toe in the murky water in certain areas of Andalusia until the regional government there sets its own house in order.

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