Nightmare in the sun as home dreams fall apart

LAST UPDATED: 6 Apr, 2009 @ 14:56
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Nightmare in the sun as home dreams fall apart

AlmanzoraFollowing news of the EU resolution into “rampant construction” in Spain, Jon Robins of the Observer takes a look at the situation in Albox – one of the towns in the spotlight of MEPs in Brussels.

“I HAVE sold up in the UK, invested my life savings in this piece of ground, and the house that stands on it,” says Bob Naya, a 62-year-old British man living in Almería in the south-east corner of Spain. “Now my home faces demolition.”

Bob Naya spent about 150,000 euros on his home in the sun in Albox and he stands to lose his entire investment. He is one of hundreds of expats who unknowingly bought houses that had been built illegally. These properties now cannot be sold, and could even face the bulldozers.

Many of Bob Naya’s friends and neighbours were sent into a panic when the Almeria civil court recently ordered the demolition of 11 such properties in the inland town of Albox.

Those houses were built on suelo no urbanizable (land not designated for urban construction).

The court also ordered building on the Almanzora Country Club to stop, bringing a halt to work on 1,500 houses.

The pressure on those who came out to the south of Spain with the hope of a retirement in the sun on their modest pensions has been unbearable. Mr Naya, a former local government officer, has set up a residents’ group called Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No and in two months 200 members have signed up.

“My wife could not take the stress and strain of it any more. She has gone back to live in England with our daughter,” says Mr Naya. “Many Brits out here are physically ill and suffer from all kinds of anxiety syndromes caused specifically by this situation.”

Irwin Mitchell Abogados, the Spanish branch of a British law firm, recently hosted an advice clinic at Albox town hall, together with Naya’s group; 100 concerned residents, all Britons, turned up.

The firm specialises in class actions; so far, 40 ex-pats have signed on to its books and two or three new clients arrive each day.

“Unfortunately, British buyers have been caught up in a fever over the last few years, as properties have been dirt cheap,” says one of the firm’s partners, José Maria de Lorenzo.

Innocent criminals

So how does your Spanish dream home become the stuff of nightmares? Illegal in this context means the property is without a licence, or the correct licence, or that it does not meet the planning regulations.

At the most extreme that means a breach of the country’s criminal code, and sanctions can range from fines to imprisonment.

However, according to the law firm, the most severe punishments are to be reserved for developers and government officials. A number of regional officials have already been sent down for taking bribes over the granting of licences.

“What appears to have happened is people have been giving bungs to the local authorities to actually issue licences when they should not have,” explains Peter Esders, a partner with the British-based International Law Partnership, which covers the Spanish market.


“On the face of it, the purchases look perfectly legal. They have the proper stamps and seals. When people carry out the relevant searches, it looks as though they have planning permission.”

The bad news is even a diligent lawyer would probably fail to spot the scam. He adds: “No solicitor is going to check behind a planning permission. You just cannot.”

Esders says the good news is that the extent of the scandal has been revealed and the authorities are now tackling the problem.
“People should have a lot more confidence in the area,” he says.

And, unsurprisingly, estate agents are keen to calm nerves. “The problems are largely historical now,” insists Chris McCarthy of Viva Estates in Almeria, which has about 3,500 properties for sale.

“There are people with very real problems but I think that is going to be resolved. This part of Spain is currently about the safest area to buy in because everybody now has to be extremely careful.”

None the less, there is concern at how many Britons have rushed into buying properties without proper advice.

“Most people, when they are buying abroad, tend not to use an independent lawyer. I find that amazing,” says Esders.

He suggests there are a number of reasons for this. For example, buyers possibly mistakenly believe the Spanish notarial system offers protection.

“People think the notary public is signing a deal off, and that is all they need; but the notary does not check they have planning permission,” he says.

Agents and developers also routinely advise would-be buyers they can rely on their lawyers. But the agent’s commission on a new-build property can be as much as 20 per cent, giving them a vested interest in seeing the deal go through, reveals Brian Marson, a British property law expert who moved to Marbella in 2003 and set up Legalanswers, a legal practice employing locally qualified lawyers.

“Unfortunately, when people get off their plane at Málaga, they have left their brain at Gatwick,” he says. “The sky is blue, everything is lovely and people want to believe what they are told.’

Nightmare scenario

“The idea was to retire, enjoy the life, and live the dream,” says Mike Phillips, a 63-year-old former electrical engineer who moved with his wife, Jan, to Albox in 2004. “Instead, we are living in a nightmare and trapped in a house we cannot sell.”

The couple spent 205,000 euros on their villa, but their problems began before their home was even finished, when “the builders went into liquidation,” Mike recalls. However, the big problem was that the couple’s home was built without the proper licence.

The couple blame their Spanish solicitor, whom they say “misled them from the start.”

“Our solicitor assured us that although the house was suelo no urbanizable, licences were not a problem,” Mike says.

The contract stipulated if the builder failed to obtain licences, the purchaser would get a refund. That was little consolation, however, as the builders disappeared.

The fact the property is illegal under local law has not stopped the couple having to pay hefty costs, including 11,000 euros for electricity and water to be supplied.

It transpired the couple’s land was half of a parcel of land owned by the builders. When they went bankrupt, the couple was effectively forced to spend 30,000 euros buying the other half because parcels could not be split under local law.

“Now I have 5,350 square metres of land, half of which I cannot do anything with,” says Mike.

Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No

30 COMMENTS

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  1. We purchased a plot of land from New Villas who gave the measurements as 2692 sq metres. It was sold as a building plot;we paid 45000 euros for it.On the deeds registered by that developer they state we paid 6000 euros.The plot is short by around 12000 sq feet. They have since built our bungalow on the land and we have taken out mortgages in UK by releasing equity of our property in UK.We retire in just over two years and have to sell our UK property to pay off the bank mortgage.We have no alternative but to move to Spain but the stress of the uncertainty which hangs over us could well finish us off before we get there.You think you have covered yourself for all known events when you get an English speaking lawyer outside of the area to act for you and you have asked all the relavant questions. This is a complete nightmare we have been completely stitched up so why isn`t the EU putting forse on the Spanish government under the human rights act. This situation would never have arisen in UK.

  2. Do you have any information on Almanzora Country Club? I was one of the many buyers that got caught and taken on by parador properties who are still selling the ACC project on their books.

    leslie Rice
    Ireland
    086-3879619

  3. Check the Catastro. “oficina virtual del catasto” and you will see the real size of the land, use and if it is urban. It is free and is a central government office free from local fiddling.
    Buiding work, if done wih a standard contract, (part of the project, by law) has all the terms and conditions. You should never pay ahead of work and no reputable builder should try and charge. Once they have your money you can never get it back. All payments should be agauinst work completed less 5%. The 5% is paid 6 to 12 months after completion or when a 10 yea warrany is given. Of course if the owner does not employ an architect, doesnt use the contract and has no licence then they deserve at they get.

  4. Through Parador I found Almanzora Country Club – 2 bed apartment Gran Sol -In June 2004 to 2005 I paid three stage payments 22,666 euros each (altogether about £52,000) i am about to employ the third set of solicitors in Holborn, London and cannot afford them unless I do so on a “no win no fee” basis. In which case – even if they recovered my money I would be lucky to end up with half. Please let me know if there is a group of people taking the builders, Huma Mediterraneo, Murcia to court so I can join them and cut down on expense by sharing costs with them.

  5. Through Prador I found a two bed apartment in Almanzora Country Club. In June 2004up to July 2005 I parted with three stage payments of 22,666 euros (about £52,000 altogether). It is now four years and nothing has been achieved. I have asked the third set of solicitors in Holborn, London to act on my behalf but unfortunately am unable to pay unless it is on a no win no fee basis. Can you give the name of a reputable firm of lawyers/solicitors in Almeria or southern coast of Spain who are also acting on behalf of other purchasers so I can share the cost of the legal fees with them? I look forward to hearing from you very soon. Many thanks Charmaine Hopson

  6. Hi Charmaine, My husband and I bought a bungalow on ACC in May 2005 and despite writing to Huma last July to cancel, we had no response. We have now taken legal action and the papers were presented to the court in Feb this year. We still havn’t heard the result, but Abaco Asessores (our solicitors)say it will take a while for the court to decide what action to take and once they have it may still take months to get our money back. We are sick to death of the whole thing and wish we had never heard of ACC. We desperately want to buy again but our hands are tied until we get our money back. We keep seeing properties that may be suitable but can’t do anything about it. Sorry I can’t give you any good news, but I suggest you take legal action ASAP as Huma are not responding to anyone, not even the solicitors at the moment, hence the legal action. I am thinking about contacting Watchdog, but I think they will need a lot of people to contact them before they will get involved. Good luck. Linda

  7. We are having problems obtaining our money back from Huma in regard to the purchase of two flats at the Almanzora Country Club. We waited the required time to apply for the refunds, i.e. default by the developer in respect of our contract and have instructed Aldea solcitors to act, they were recommended by Parador Properties. Would love to hear of group of similarly placed purchasers so that we can speak with one voice and fight this action. Can anyone out there help?

  8. For all ACC buyers, if you look under ACC in the off plan development on the eye on spain forum there is loads of info on there.
    In particular one member is looking for information for a Channel 4 news special on Parador Huma and the whole shambles

  9. The whole situation has been disappointing.
    I am now looking at the possibility of maybe transferring to the site at Mazarron or Tabernas, although I am very unhappy about the whole situation, and would really prefer my money to be returned.
    Good luck to everyone concerned on reaching some kind of solution after the stress we have all endured as a result of being badly let down.

  10. Unfortunately Brian Marson is now famous for this nasty unfair quotation which DOES NOT apply to ALL travellers from the UK but it DOES apply to the MAJORITY of builders,estate agents,promoters,lawyers,and some notaries who work in hand with the lawyers in Andalucia which has been proved by the amount of arrests made along with Town Hall Councillors,Planning Officers,Mayors etc for taking bribes. Also Sr.SantaMaria ALWAYS springs to the defence of his countrymen (I have seen his previous quotes on similar topics). How can he blame people who employ a seemingly honest and independent Spanish Lawyer.Only an extremely rich person can afford an architects survey which cost from 15k euros, I bet he never had one done on his property before he bought it? Hipocrite!Finally, name me ANY builer in SPAIN who will start work without at least a deposit for materials and I will employ him to build my next shopping complex?

  11. now here is what a wiserperson would do. go and buy all the building material with your builder so “you own it.” then pay the builder in stages as work is finished,but do makethis clear. buy the material in stages too.but be even wiser and save your sum as already every corner is heaving with empty shops+ as they mushroomed just like the urbanizaciones

  12. As for Parador properties, now there is still “Parador España” operating as ruthlessly as ever, The Logo has shrunk or changed to wavey black lines but still on sliver 4x4s still selling to uk residents who are still oblivious to reality, specially in “Condado De Alhama,” A thousand or more apartments etc,etc, with ,yes cardboard,carton size up to 3 bedrooms but hang on till you rent it out and try and fit 6 oversized holiday makers then yes the salon+kitchen American style***/sitting room only holds a 3 seatter+a small TV unit and A coffee table of 40x40cm yes that is a fact and of course there just is’t I mean is’t room for a 6sitter dinning table and the high back or bucket chairs. The worse thing is It is out in the deserty vast space going to no walking distance Malls Or Corner shops. there is nothing around for wanting to leave the gated prison,modern getto. The An honest Family,furniture man struggled to find space despite of all possibile wayes to try. In the end the couple agreed (after 4 hours)to wait and until later,Ah yes a largish patio is available but now that it can snow in October in Spain, those wintery months can be Bitterly cold Cold), well the occupants will just have to eat off the kitchen work surfaces. I see them as “Fly traps.” I really dont think Nicklaus have any Idea about 2Traps” surounded by his passion for “G” Parador should think twice before they flog these. you only get free trip once. then everyone has to drive for 1.5+ hrs.from Alcante El Altet,or 1.10+hrs.from San Javier (Murcia. Think of those kids and seniors too. It could become a tiresome drag. Corvera is yet to emerge. So choose very carefully if you must… its a very long way to obtain treatment if someone has an accident. I only visited this yesterday so its very fresh news.

  13. Almanzora Valley Inspection Team.
    Juan Jose Lozano Saez, Director of the Albox based company, “Proyme Ingenieros”, the appointed Inspection Team investigating and collecting data on illegal homes in the Almanzora Valley, is himself subject to building and constructing illegal homes. The police have asked for prison sentence for each illegal construction.
    I expect that the Town Halls were not aware, as they were not aware of the developement going on all around them.

  14. Dunn – you hit the nail on the head there!!
    I remember looking in the Almazora Valley years ago. The land laws were just coming into effect and things changed weekly. We were lucky enough to have a friend who was an abagado and between us we tried to stay one step ahead. Driving around Albox it was obvious to us that hundreds and hundreds of homes being built there HAD to be illegal. If it was obvious to us it was obvious to the Town Hall and more importantly what about the Junta vans driving around then?? They have waited until they were all built and now say they want them knocked down – shame on them.

    I see Spain’s crusading Judges are to be restricted in their international prosecutions – Good news now maybe they can join the crusade to sort out their own legal system!!!

  15. They are starting again, the demolition of legally built houses, owned by elderly British expatriates.
    At their age, some may not even get away with their lives.
    Please support us against the “MONSTERS OF SEVILLA” (The Junta de Andalucia

    The Junta de Andalucia condoned rampant development and have enjoyed the huge financial benefits, they have been the primary motivators of these property scandals.
    Having been caught out, they respond in a typical tyrannical manner, terrorizing the weakest in their community. These callous and ruthless beings in power have been ordering uniformed police, presumably armed, to knock on elderly peoples doors, with the warnings, that their lives are about to come to an end, “the feared demolition order”, how twisted and bitter to carry this out just before Christmas. What excuse do the police have, “we are only carrying out our orders”
    Had these buffoons at the Junta done the work they had been so handsomely paid for, none of this would be taking place.
    These terrorists at the Junta must and should be taken to task for their criminal activities, ruining the lives of so many and bringing so much shame on the whole of Spain
    CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

  16. ACC COUNTRY CLUB i have just read through this stuff for the first time we bought our property 5 years 6 in oct coming,we employed solicitors 18 months ago.we have bank guarantees with murcia bank we were told we would have a refund within 10 weeks.we are still waiting for the first reading in court i do not think our solicitors can do anthing more than they are.we appear to be at the mercy of the courts and spanish legal system.it is a real worry when you can do nothing,if anybody has any names of any organisation i can sign up to please let me know.i am thinking of trying the tv ie watchdog or even a higher power in europe if poss.
    phill

  17. JUAN JOSE LOZANO SAEZ, of Proyme Inginieros, an Albox based engineering and architect company, nominated by Albox town hall to lead an inspection team to provide an inventory of houses for the Junta de Andalucia while himself subject to legal proceedings for his part in constructing and selling illegal homes, was together with his father,both visibly shaken in the dock in the Almeria courts 23rd June 2010.
    Can we hope he and his father get their come uppence with a stiff prison sentence, reflecting their victims suffering.
    This being Spain, it is more likely the victims will have to pay and suffer even more, while they get off with their ill gotton gains.
    WHY DOES IT TAKE FIVE YEARS TO ASK THESE CRIMINAL BUILDERS IF THEY HAVE A LICENSE TO BUILD?
    WHY ARE LAWYERS ALLOWED TO SELL ILLEGAL HOUSES?
    WHY CAN TOWN HALLS CONDONE THE ILLEGAL BUILDIDING AND OPERATE RELATED BUSINESSES OF EXTORTION?
    The answer may be with,the Junta de Andalucía’s new housing tzar, Rosa Urioste, at a recent meeting she was reported to have shreaked, “WE HAVE RULES AND THEY MUST BE OBEYED”
    Where have we heard that before

  18. Some of you would be purchasers of Huma off-plan developments may remember signing a petition some 17 months ago that I submitted to the Governor of the Bank of Spain. It was in regard to the non-compliance of the various Spanish banks who were not honouring the guarantees given by them to protect deposits paid by purchasers of off-plan properties. You very kindly supported this petition and were signatories to it. Not everyone provided me with email addresses so this may be the first you have heard of it since. The petition was briefly brushed aside by the Bank of Spain’s legal representative who in so many words suggested we deal with the matter through the courts. This in spite of the public pronouncements made by the Governor himself when explaining his powers to deal with recalcitrant banks.

    I now want to inform you of a further action being undertaken by a fellow sufferer, Keith Rule, leader of the Finca Parcs Action Group. He has devised a further petition regarding the problems surrounding bank guarantees. It has been launched on the EyeonSpain website. Unlike the earlier one, this is a very thorough and precise exploration of the issues. Keith is attempting to provide the various leaders of the governments and relevant organisations of both England and Spain with HARD FACTS re the Spanish law (Ley 57/68), through which we are required to work, and the HARD FACTS connected with the miserable circumstances in which many of us have found ourselves.

    The petition has been devised as a survey. It asks you to provide these HARD FACTS which will be compiled and presented as a dossier of evidence including formal statistics to the leaders that you will find listed at the head of the petition.

    It has taken Keith two years of research, drafting and refining the petition and he has left no stone unturned to get it right and legally correct. I urge you to look at the website “www.bankguaranteesinspain.com” and complete as much of it as you can. Everyone can sign (anonymously if you wish – the only requirement is that you have an e-mail address) as it caters for all those who have had, or are having, to deal with a bank guarantee issue in their attempt to purchase an off-plan property. It allows for both winners and losers to sign and it also allows supporters of the spirit of the petition to sign, too.

    The more HARD FACTS you can provide the stronger the HARD EVIDENCE.

    Please get behind Keith and help to make this petition one that cannot be ignored.

    Thank you.
    Ruth Genda

  19. Juan Jose Lozano Saez, head of the Albox based Proyme Ingenieros and head of the Almanzora Valley Inspection Team, that is when not building and fraudulently selling illegal properties to unsuspecting elderly British expatriates has found another solution to stop his victims complaining. Simple,he and his cronies concoct a story and with the help of the local police, his elderly victims are summoned to court,within only a few days,with no specific charge and no time for a defence,found innocent or guilty, the result, more stress and out of pocket. In any case you are disadvantaged, as these criminals spend more time in court then your lawyer.
    Try to take these gangster to court for their criminal activities, the norm is years of waiting, often more time then some victims have left or for some mysterious reason papers are lost and the rules have changed.
    The same people who collected housing data for the town halls, to assist the Junta in finding a solution to this scandal.

  20. I know I am late on this thread but I thought I would let you all know that I got my refund !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I wish you good luck with your petition ,I used a top class international lawyer on a pay at the end basis .

    cant tell you how happy I am .

  21. Hi ad,

    I’m guessing you have been bitten a fair bit too… I wish Spain would take some sort of responsibility for what’s happened. I misght as well have put my money in a suitcase and burnt it for all the good it’s got me…

  22. Hi Linda,

    Perhaps I can help. I would like to extend that to all people on this thread too.

    If anyone would like a chat you’re more than welcome to give me a ring. 01913736527.

    Also I would like to add with regards to some other approaches: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”

    Thanks!

    Samantha

  23. You are lucky I bought a property built by Imobilaria Almanzora to which I found out I only have five olive trees and no villa as it is on someone else’s land, the farmer has cut the water and the eletric supply off so now we found the villa doesn’t have a builders licence so now we have no water but have manage to get a eletricity supply now the farmer want 50 euro’s a mounth for agricultural water.In trying to sort this mess to which all concerned have caused I seem to unearth more problems in the terms of faud and deception from evryone concerned builder solicitor and bank as I have a morgage on five olive trees, and the list goe’s on

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