Justice plea by Britons caught up in Spanish homes scam
09 November 2009 @ 09:21
By Alfonso Daniels in Almanzora Valley, Spain
BRITONS whose Spanish homes have been rendered worthless because they lack a "habitation licence" will today petition Madrid in their fight for justice.
The petition will detail more than 1,000 cases of people – mostly retired couples – who fell victim to a scam whereby local mayors reclassified rural land to sell to builders, often in return for bribes, and they in turn marketed properties to unsuspecting clients, knowing the requisite permits were not in place.
Many have not even been able to occupy their houses, getting only a stamped document in exchange for their life savings.
Suzanne Wyatt said: "The majority paid the money six or seven years ago and lost everything. I spent 90,000 (£81,000) and haven't received anything. I doubt we'll be compensated."
She admits the chances of getting a response from the Spanish government are slim.
Danish MEP Margrete Auken said: "It's the largest case I've ever come across. Tens of thousands of people, British, Germans, Spaniards, are affected. Rules were not respected, corruption was rampant."
She said the Spanish government was trying to avoid tackling the issue, despite a resolution passed in March by the European Parliament threatening sanctions unless these cases were resolved.
Nowhere is the situation starker than in the arid and rugged Almanzora Valley in south-eastern Spain.
Liz and John Browne, a retired couple from Bellshill, Lanarkshire, moved there five years ago. But their retirement dream turned into a living hell after realising they had bought one of some 11,000 illegal properties built in the area.
"We're trapped. We can't do anything. The builder and our Spanish lawyers said the building licence was in order, so we paid 140,000, which was half of the total, and look what we have now," said Mr Browne, pointing at the empty concrete shell of his house.
They have spent the past five years renting another place for 600 a month using the other half of the money, waiting in vain for someone to compensate them or to be allowed to complete their house. "Our money is running out," Mr Browne said. "I'm 72 years old and a few months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I feel sick. I don't want to leave my wife with nothing and give up our dream."
In another part of the valley, in Aljambra, 13 British couples live in whitewashed, tiled houses with swimming pools which they bought five years ago for about 200,000, but which turned out to be illegal. Their electricity has been cut off, forcing them to buy diesel generators which they can afford to run for only about five hours daily, while some houses do not even have running water. The local mayor has been arrested, but they do not expect their cases to be resolved for years.