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03/10/2014 - Landmark ruling brings hope for British expats



A court has awarded compensation to four families who unknowingly bought illegally-built properties in Andalusia


Thousands of Britons who were duped into buying illegally built properties in Spain have been offered fresh hope after four British families were awarded more than £140,000 compensation in a landmark ruling.


A Spanish court in Almeria, a city in Andalusia, south east Spain, this week ruled the families bought the properties in good faith. It ordered the developers to pay "moral damages" of between €40,000 and €50,000 to three families for suffering and anxiety they have faced over the last 10 years.


They must also pay a fourth British family, whose property was never completed, €7,800 in damages to cover their rental costs.


Courts have stopped houses being knocked down before, but this is understood to be the first time a court has awarded compensation to cover the owners' ordeals.


Maura Hillen, president of AUAN, an organisation supporting owners of "illegal" homes in Andalusia, said: "It has taken 10 years for this case to be heard but we succeeded in the main aim, which was to prevent their homes from being demolished.


"These families may have another fight on their hands to actually get the compensation awarded to them, but I would urge anyone in this situation to fight for their home because this shows it can be saved."


She said the ruling sent a clear message that the buyers were not the guilty party.


Thousands of British expats and holiday makers bought Spanish properties in the late Nineties and early 2000s. Many subsequently found their holiday and retirement dreams shattered when it emerged the homes were illegally built by unscrupulous developers and agents who did not have planning permission.


Many home owners have faced the threat of demolition, while others have had no power because their homes were not officially recognised, so were not on the grid.


After years of legal wrangling the judge in this case ruled that the properties could not be demolished, as there is a chance they may be properly regulated in the future.


Two developers were each sentenced to a year in prison for planning offences.


If the developers fail to pay, the local council of Albox must foot the bill. The judge said its poor controls and performance gave the appearance that the homes were legal, even though it knew they were built on land that could not be developed.


The regional government in Andalusia, where there are around 300,000 illegally built homes, has promised legal backing for affected property owners. Last month it pledged to change the law in order to officially recognise the homes of thousands of Spaniards and expats whose houses were built on non-urban land.