Auken report highlights problem of Ley de Costas for property owners in Spain

Private land lost to the Ley de Costas
Private land lost to the Ley de Costas

Much has been written about the Auken report – the latest report approved by the European Parliament slamming property injustices in Spain – but most of the comment has focused on problems like Valencia’s so-called “land grab” laws, illegal building, municipal corruption, environmental degradation, and the blight of unsustainable over-development in many areas.

It is worth pointing out, however, that the Auken report also heaps criticism on Spain’s Ley de Costas, or Coastal Law, which is just as damaging to property rights in Spain, not to mention the environment.

To help bring this issue to people’s attention, and point out that Spain’s Ley de Costas / Coastal Law was identified in the Auken report as a significant problem, the relevant passages from the report are reprinted below.

Extracts from the Auken report relating to the Ley de Costas

O. whereas in 2008 the Spanish authorities issued instructions regarding the application of the 1988 Coastal Law, which had been neglected for many years during which time extensive environmental damage was done to coastal areas in Spain; whereas even the current instructions do not provide for clear implementing measures to be followed by the local and regional authorities involved, and whereas many new petitions received bear witness to the retroactive contents of the instructions and the arbitrary destruction and demolition of individuals’ legitimately acquired property, their rights to such property and their ability to transfer their rights by means of inheritance,

P. whereas, in view of the actual course of the demarcation line, those affected have formed the strong impression that it has been defined arbitrarily at the expense of foreign owners, for example on the island of Formentera,

Q. whereas the Coastal Law impacts disproportionately on individual property owners who should have their rights fully respected, and at the same time insufficiently on the real perpetrators of coastal destruction, who have in many instances been responsible for excessive urban developments along the coasts, including holiday resorts, and who had good grounds for knowing that they were invariably acting contrary to the provisions of the law in question,

22. Recognises and supports the efforts of the Spanish authorities to protect the coastal environment and, where possible, to restore it in a way which allows bio-diversity and the regeneration of indigenous species of flora and fauna; in this specific context appeals to them to review the Coastal Law as a matter of urgency and if necessary to revise it in order to protect the rights of legitimate home-owners and those who own small plots of land in coastal areas which do not impact negatively on the coastal environment; emphasises that such protection should not be afforded to those developments which are planned as speculative ventures and do not respect the applicable EU environmental Directives; undertakes to review such petitions as have been received on this subject in the light of responses received from the competent Spanish authorities;

Extracts from the Auken report’s explanatory statement

It is therefore unacceptable for certain political authorities, and party leaders, to claim that the problems are only raised by foreigners who of course can not understand Spanish laws; or, to state that victims have only to address themselves to the nearest court for their situation to be clarified and resolved. Many petitioners have indeed attempted this course of action but without any result; others have not the money to do so. Most are bewildered by the conflicting advice they are given by local authorities and lawyers who they have turned to for counsel but who have helped them little. (Not to mention the many cases where the municipal authorities and the lawyers themselves have been an intrinsic part of the problem.) Most petitioners and many legal practitioners are confounded by the lack of legal certainty and confusion resulting from imprecise or excessively complicated legislation related to urban development and its implications alongside even more confusing implementing provisions. The recently resurrected Coastal Law of 1988 is an additional case in point.

The Committee understands and supports the Spanish authorities in their attempts to preserve and where possible restore the coastal environment. What it fails to understand is why the 1988 Coastal Law has been resurrected at this stage, in this time, when it has been in practical abeyance for thirty years when so much devastation took place. Why is its application such a shambles and so arbitrary when traditional coastal housing is being demolished and newly developed modern apartments being tolerated? Why were people allowed to buy such property during the last thirty years, respecting all the legal requirements with which they were faced, only to be confronted today with a law with retro-active effect which denies them the rights associated with legitimate ownership? That speculators and property developers who had the legal resources to know better should be penalised is reasonable; what is not is that people who have bought their property in good faith respecting all the demands made upon them should lose their rights, and that of their families and descendents to their homes.

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