A judge in Almeria has awarded €135,000 damages to three British families who bought illegal homes a decade ago in Albox, in a case which might open the door for similar suits around Spain.
The homeowners bought in “good faith” and deserved compensation for living with the possibility of losing their home, the judge ruled. The judge also awarded €7,800 to another British family, whose savings were trapped in a home that was half built before work was stopped.
More than 250,000 homes were built illegally in Andalusia during the boom years, creating an emotional and complex issue for local authorities. A plan was approved by the ruling junta in 2012 to legalise homes, but there has been little progress, critics charge.
A few weeks ago junta president Susana Díaz announced an additional 25,000 homes could be saved from destruction, under a new amendment to the plan.
But there is still uncertainty about the fate of and ultimate legal status of the homes. For years owners have not known whether their homes would be demolished. In many cases, they could not rent or resell the property, with the legal case in limbo.
Last month prosecutors called for the demolition of 93 homes in Albox, an area where promoters attracted waves of British buyers. But the local mayor said the homes would likely be saved by the new legislation.
“In the meantime this whole drama of illegal homes remains a terrible stain on the reputation of Andalusia as somewhere to invest, discouraging fresh money and ultimately impoverishing the local community,” SPI’s Mark Stucklin said. “Innocent people who bought in good faith and ended up with illegal homes through no fault of their own have been treated appallingly by the Spanish authorities.”
The judge’s new ruling in favor of the three homeowners suggests the courts are ready to display more sympathy for owners. With several similar cases pending, demolitions are growing unlikely, with the new ruling emphasizing that tearing down a house would do “more harm than good,” an article in La Voz de Almeria notes.
“It’s very probable that the homes might be legalised in a time frame that depends upon administrative procedures,” the sentencing judge explained.
But the judge in the Albox case went a step further, awarding damages to the owners for their issues. Developers and architects are liable for the payments. But if they can’t pay, the judge ordered the local town hall pick up the bill for failing to control the situation and lending “an appearance of legality” to illegal building.
“It’s good news for the owners,” Maura Hillen, president of local property rights campaign group AUAN told local media, pointing out that this is the first time that victims who bought homes in good faith have been awarded damages for their suffering.
The developers and the town hall have the right to appeal, so it may be years before the owners receive any payment. But their victory is still an important step, according to their attorney, Gerardo Vázquez.
“I think there is increasing social awareness of the travesty of demolishing the homes of people who bought in good faith, who would lose their savings and their home,” he told reporters.