Madrid determined to prolong the illegal building chaos in rural Andalusia, trapping elderly expats in homes they can’t sell

Rural planning relief for expats in Andalusia under threat from central government in Madrid
Illegal home in rural Andalusia

A recent decree passed by the Andalusian regional parliament making it possible to sort out the planning status of hundreds of thousands of rural homes, and enabling many elderly foreign expats to sell up and return home, is being challenged by the central government in Madrid.

The decree is a technical and administrative law that gives mayors and town planning departments at a municipal level legal tools to modify their General Town Plans (PGOUs) to include illegal developments on rustic land that they have been having to offer some municipal services like rubbish collection. You’ll find links at the bottom of this article to give you more background on the law.

The decree doesn’t legalise homes built less than six years ago, or those under a demolition order, or built on specially protected land.

The regional government in Seville defends the decree’s balance between the general interest, protecting the environment, and owners who bought in good faith.

Seville deny it’s an amnesty because critics say that would be a moral hazard appeasing law-breakers, and encouraging illegal development. It’s also controversial because critics point out it legalises the properties illegally built by drug-dealers in the Campo de Gibraltar area.

In conflict with Spain’s notorious Ley de Costas – Coastal Law

A house doomed by the Spanish ley de costas coastal law
A house doomed by the Spanish ley de costas coastal law

The central government in Madrid considers that the law has “legal discrepancies” and conflicts with the notorious Spanish Ley de Costas coastal law, which nationalised the whole Spanish coastline and all properties on it, without compensation, back in 1986. So at the end of November last year the Minister for Territorial Policy started constitutional proceedings to resolve the issue in a bilateral commission of cooperation between the central government and the autonomous regions of Andalusia.

The recent Spanish General Election, and delay forming a new government, have pushed back the process and deadline for negotiations from December to the 20th June. If they don’t reach an agreement the central government will propose the whole decree is ruled as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, and struck down if they win.

In the meantime, Seville is proceeding as if nothing has changed, reports the local press. Seville is organising training sessions for municipal officials on how to interpret and implement the law. Attendance has been high, the press reports, because town halls are desperate to resolve the problem, and increase local tax revenues as a result. I presume you can still get the ball rolling on a planning application to legalise your home, if you are one of those affected, at least for now.

Planning amnesties are nothing new in Andalusia. Local papers report that the regional government has legalised 25.000 homes in the last 15 years prior to this latest amnesty, in various different processes that have often led to “bureaucratic chaos.”

At the heart of the matter lie badly-drafted town planning laws inviting chaos and corruption. You can safely buy and sell property in Andalusia, but you do need to be aware of the risks, and get good help.

This latest ‘amnesty’ looked like it would bring a bit of stability to the rural market by reducing risks, and help the elderly expats trapped in illegal homes. Now it looks like the central government in Madrid has other plans. We’ll have to wait and see if this window of escape remains open or gets shut later this year – the latter would be a big blow to the rural property market in Andalusia. But let’s face it, thanks to Madrid, owners of properties without correct planning permission are now trapped again until a final decision is reached. Who in their right mind would now buy an illegal home if the decree is going to be struck down?

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