News Articles

21/05/2011 - Illegal homes tragedy

Despite the current international outrage, the Spanish government, construction companies, promoters and the rest still fail to acknowledge the extent of the damage that the illegal housing scandals are continuing to cause, not only to the country’s economy but also to its reputation, both at home and abroad. Media coverage of construction illegalities and demolition tragedies means that there is now widespread mistrust among potential investors from outside, whilst those trapped on the inside live in too much fear and angst over their future, and that of their home, to spend money as freely as they once did.

Central and regional governments issue grants in order to ‘kickstart the economy’ and desperately seek to implement schemes like the latest roadshow fiasco designed to attract foreign buyers back into the affected areas. Like many others, I would like to know why they are allowed to do it.

Perhaps it was the Spanish housing minister’s assurance that only 8,500-or-so British citizens have fallen foul of devious property dealers backed by legal and local Authorities. The British (along with Germans, French, Belgians, Swedish…) do indeed represent a minority among the many, many thousands of affected homeowners – Spanish citizens forming by far the greater percentage. So, that’s alright then? No doubt other European governments should be encouraged to follow the same thinking. As long as its own citizens constitute the majority of those affected by unjust and retroactively-applied housing laws, poorly-functioning local Authorities and unscrupulous promoters, builders, lawyers and the rest, the Spanish Government should be given a warm welcome on any European shore. I am afraid I disagree – and I know I am not alone.

There are many thousands of expatriates of all nationalities, currently suffering the consequences of urban corruption in Spain. Each of us, in our different localities, has our own particular predicament to contend with – ranging from illegally built housing to unjust expropriation, and often encompassing an unpalatable mixture of both. Thankfully, we can count on those who, both individually and collectively, are prepared to help us fight our cause, but they need our support. The proliferation of associations now springing into life throughout the country is indicative of the extent of the problem of urban abuse: Abusos Urbanísticos, No (AUN); Abusos Urbanísticos Lliber, No! (AULN); Abusos Urbanísticos del Levante Almeriense, No! (AULAN) …and the list goes on. Whilst representing moving and inspiring examples of solidarity, sadly, these platforms are also indicative of the refusal of the Spanish Authorities to show any willingness to provide very necessary solutions to the problems of urban abuse, let alone accept any part in their creation.

When asked, recently, if compensation would only be paid to affected Britons, Housing Minister, Beatríz Corredor, replied: ‘if the courts order it’. So, we’ll take that as a ‘no’ then, Beatríz?

This attitude ensures that only those buyers (of whatever nationality) who are young enough and affluent enough to afford lengthy legal action stand a chance of recouping their money. It will probably prove much more difficult to recover their physical and psychological well-being.

Maybe someone should tell Spanish government that the only way to inject life back into the country’s economy is by getting their own houses in order first. Instead of wringing the life out of what is left, they should spend their money and effort in implementing satisfactory solutions to the illegal housing dilemmas that threaten to destroy local communities and to disgrace the nation. And they should try to implement one of the fundamentals of clever marketing, if not of moral decency: stop treating people in terms of numbers and markets and start treating them as people. Take the Skippers, for example, an elderly couple who live in Dolores. They rue the day they trusted a local company enough to buy a house from them. No doubt convinced by the chatty, reassuring words of the British ‘estate agent’ fronting the outfit, they handed over their life-savings and settled into their little patch of paradise in the rural Vega Baja. Welcome, Mr and Mrs Skipper, to the mire.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Skippers’ case (as detailed in the Costa Blanca News, May 13 2011), please allow me to briefly outline the details. Like many thousands of others, Mr and Mrs Skipper bought their house in good faith, completely unaware that it had been illegally built. That was in 2003. Over five years later, suddenly faced with a huge fine and the threat of demolition, they realize they were deceived, big time, by their now not-so-friendly local estate agent. Though backed by the Regional Ombudsman, José Cholbi, the Skippers find themselves up against the local Town Hall Administration that refuses to accept the Ombudsman’s recommendations and challenges the Skippers to take the Town Hall to court, knowing full-well, of course, that the likelihood of this is minimal with the resources available to them.

Understandably, both Mr and Mrs Skipper have been emotionally and physically affected by the extremely stressful predicament in which they find themselves. Having suffered a heart attack, Mr Skipper has been hospitalized three times since Christmas. Sadly, as most of us know, their story is not unique.

Despite everything, like many other European citizens, the Skippers love living in Spain. They only wish they could live in peace without the constant fear of losing their home. Until that is possible, however, they want to warn others of the dangers of buying Spanish property. As do we all.

Meanwhile, I would like to tell Ray and Veda Skipper that their fight is our fight and that we, too, will do all we can, at least to keep their case in the ‘public eye’ and to draw attention to their plight at national and European level. We can start by writing to our MEPs and by giving voice to this injustice wherever the opportunity presents itself. We can pledge our support to those who campaign for the application of economic sanctions should Spain continue to refuse to comply with European law. This is the only hope that those like the Lluchs, the Olsens, the Priors and the Skippers have of obtaining some kind of compensation for the injustice and inhumanity they continue to endure. 

That is what I would have liked to have said to them, but sadly it is already too late. As we go to press, we have learned of the tragic news of Ray Skipper’s death. Ray will never hear these words and Vera is too distraught to listen – and then, of course, there are those who will simply turn a ‘deaf ear.’

Article by Linda Palfreeman