A judge stays the demolition of British-owned home in Almeria

A Spanish judge has suspended the demolition order on a British-owned home in Albox (Almeria) pending a decision by European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The municipality of Albox is an illegal building hotspot, where hundreds of European pensioners (mainly British) bought homes during the boom. Some of these homes were built without proper planning permission, and some were built with licences that were then declared illegal. A number of homes have been earmarked for demolition.

So it’s great news that the demolition order hanging over one home belonging to a retired British couple has been suspended, thanks to the heroic efforts of Gerardo Vazquez, a local lawyer, and support groups like AUNA.

The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, took their case to the ECHR, arguing that demolition would be an infringement of their property rights. The judge has accepted that demolition should be delayed until after a decision by the ECHR.

Mr and Mrs H, paid around £120,000 to have their dream home built in Albox with planning permission granted to them in the year 2002.

In 2009 they were among eight Albox homeowners served with demolition orders because the regional government of Andalusia, the Junta, based in Seville, decided the planning permission granted by the town council was illegal. The homes were built on non-urban land.

But the truth is the Junta didn’t stop the local council from issuing the building permits, didn’t stop the construction, no doubt collected fees and taxes related to the building, then declared the homes illegal and subject to demolition.

In a modern democracy the State should stand behind the licences granted by its officers, no matter how illegal. Innocent third parties should not have to foot the bill for State incompetence or corruption. And if the State must demolish illegal homes it allowed to be built the owners should be compensated in full. Sadly, that is wishful thinking in Albox.

albox-almeria-andaluciaThe couple, both in their 60s, have been fighting the order via the Spanish courts but their final appeal was rejected by the TSJA, Andalucía’s highest court, in November 2012.

The couple initially submitted their case to Strasbourg in April 2013, with the support of expat-run campaign groups AUAN, SOHA and AUN, who together represent hundreds of homeowners who find themselves in similar circumstances after purchasing a property in Spain.

Speaking on behalf of AUAN, Maura Hillen said “We are very pleased with this latest development and believe that it is the first time that such an order has been made with regard to the right to property and an appeal to the ECHR.

All we are asking is that there should be no further demolitions without prior compensation for those who acted in good faith”.

Gerardo Vazquez, the Spanish lawyer handling the ECHR appeal said “In my opinion the Spanish state needs to resolve this sort of situation once and for all especially if it wishes to sell some of its millions of empty houses to foreigners. To put it another way if you are going to invite people to your home you should make sure that it is in order and that you treat your guests well when they get there”.

Sr. Vazquez added, “The matter is not yet over, but I think that this is a very useful precedent which I hope represents a change in the stance of the Spanish Courts, who seem to be becoming more sensitive to issues of international law and human rights.”

The couple said that they are ‘overjoyed’ with the news and expressed their thanks to their lawyer and all the members of the associations ‘who have made this possible’.

Almeria is a beautiful region with a pleasant climate, hence the attraction of living there. My advice to people considering Almeria is go for a safe-haven like Desert Springs, and don’t buy anything without the thumbs up from Gerardo Vazquez or Antonio Berdonces, the two best lawyers in the area.

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