British couple launch compensation claim over demolition of home in Spain

LAST UPDATED: 3 Oct, 2012 @ 07:59
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British couple launch compensation claim over demolition of home in Spain

A BRITISH couple who had their home in Spain bulldozed despite having the correct planning permission are to sue the Spanish Judiciary.

Len and Helen Prior, both 68, are awaiting a court date after filing a case in Madrid earlier this month in a final bid for compensation.

The couple had their licence revoked by the Junta in 2008 despite having obtained the correct paperwork from Vera Town Hall, becoming the first Britons to be punished over ‘planning irregularities’.

But despite Spain’s Constitutional Court ruling the demolition took place illegally, the Priors are still fighting a near five-year legal battle.

“It’s our last hope but we’ve been warned it would be a ground-breaking case,” Helen said.

“The Spanish authorities hope that we will give up and just go home. But this is our home. We have nowhere else to go to.

“I do wonder how many years I have left to live and it’s so upsetting to think that they will probably be spent fighting on. But we won’t give up. We can’t.”

43 COMMENTS

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  1. aussiesunshine, that´s quite easy to answer.

    In this case, it just isn´t possible to appeal the decisions of national courts to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

    If the issue was European law then the national court or the individual could ask the ECJ to pass judgement. However, in this case, it is not the EU law that is in question.

    There is only one judge allocated to each member state. So there is very little leeway for individuals to go “behind the back” of the national court.

    More information here:
    http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/court-justice/index_en.htm

  2. It’s simple. If you want to move to a country where you run the risk of losing your home to obscure retrospective laws with absolutely no legal rights or any way of fighting back, Spain is for you. And to think that enshrined in Spain’s constitution is “a right to a home”. Spain in a nutshell. Buyer beware.

  3. “The Spanish authorities hope that we will give up and just go home.”
    The famous mind-reading act strikes again.

    Not only that, they know what every single one of those “authorities” is thinking. I just wish I had a talent like that.

  4. This has done terrible damage to Len and Helen Prior – but it’s done much more damage to the reputation of the miserable Junta de Andalucía. How much foreign exchange has the region lost thanks to this ill-considered attack on this couple who only wanted to retire, peacefully, in Vera?

  5. “How much foreign exchange has the region lost thanks to this ill-considered attack on this couple who only wanted to retire, peacefully, in Vera?”

    Lenox, can you answer your own question? Just how much foreign exchange has been lost because of this case?

  6. Fred – “If you want to move to a country where you run the risk of losing your home to obscure retrospective laws with absolutely no legal rights or any way of fighting back, Spain is for you.”

    Fred is actually right. Buying in Spain is like buying in Africa. And it isn’t just a problem that foreigners face; they just don’t know how to deal with it like the Spanish do. Had this been a Spanish couple, they would have just barricaded themselves inside the house and never left. They would have got the neighbors rallied around and made it impossible to bulldoze. It would have been all over the media. You can fight back but you have to do it Spanish-style.

    I don’t know the whole story, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they stood there and actually watched thinking “Oh no, how horrible.”

    Truth is Spain probably isn’t for everyone. It always seems to be these elderly British individuals who have the most difficulty adapting as well. You just can’t expect to show up in a foreign country and expect it to be run like back home.

  7. Hi Tony = there was an article in yesterdays Daily Telegraph which dealt with the Priors case.
    “http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/9565420/British-couple-whose-house-was-demolished-in-Spain-launch-compensation-bid.html”
    Furthermore, the producer of the ITV Paradise Lost video says it has been shown 24 times so far on British TV. I helped some friends make a Spanish language edition (on You Tube at paraiso perdido españa). All this punching through the British media has an effect of putting people off Almeria, or Andalucia or even Spain (there is always Cyprus…).
    How much? Each family buys a house and car at 200,000 euros. A thousand families. Ten thousand. More? We know that many people want to leave the UK, and Andalucia would normally make a great choice.

    Just ten thousand couples, 20000 people, would mean an addition to Spain of two billion euros.

  8. Reality, I have bought and sold land and property in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the past and I can assure you that buying in Spain is nothing like buying in Africa. Spain comes out looking like the fourth world compared to the African countries where I have had experience.

    Spain touts itself as a market economy, in fact, to join the EU a country has to have a market economy, and the thing which underpins all market economies is security of tenure, which Spain patently does not have…

  9. I think the Priors have done well getting all this bad publicity for Spain. This story was also run in the mail yesterday and this has just cost the Spanish tens of millions more in lost revenue. Most Governments with half a brain would have just paid them off years ago, or not knocked the place down in the first instance, especially as they had title deeds for the property from the local Town Hall. They are surrounded by houses there. It was only the regional Government that thought that the planning permission should not have been granted so they ordered that the house be knocked down. So, even if you have a house above board with title deeds it does not mean much in Spain. You cannot buy anything with confidence.
    I think they should set up their own web site and have donations via paypal to help them on their feet and pay their legal bills. I would happily set this web site up free of charge. I would also donate. It is about time they got out of that garage.

  10. J. Roberts – “Reality, I have bought and sold land and property in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the past and I can assure you that buying in Spain is nothing like buying in Africa.”

    I’m not surprised about South Africa (depending where you buy) but you’ve got guts to invest in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s land reform dispossessed some hundreds of thousands of people; literally taking the land and giving it away. Special targets were foreign owners. And those land reform measures continue today. In fact, in the law in Zimbabwe (from the 1992 Land Acquisition Act) foreign nationals who own land aren’t guaranteed the same rights as Zimbabweans.

    I hope that you’re Mugabe’s relative or have some good connections, or that you’ve sold already. You might find one day that your farm has been partitioned and you’ve been given some new tract of land halfway across the country.

  11. Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the Convention on European Rights gives a person the right to peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions. How can you enjoy them if the state demolished them illegaly. Surely this action by the Junta deprives you of this right and thus is a breach of protocol 1. They (Junta) therefore should be held to account and under article 14 you are entitled to an effective remedy for any infringement of a coventional right i.e compensation or a rebuild etc. Or am I wrong?
    Good Luck

  12. I read that the Prior’s fight continues because a spanish judge could not reach a decision as to whom should pay the compensation. The outcome of his indecision (after a period of one year) is beggars belief as with his actions, it appears that the judge relieved himself of the responsibility. The continuing saga of the ‘planning irregularities’ scandal, here in Andalucia, is an insult to intelligent thinking and an evil deed against decent citizens. Good Luck to Len and Helen Prior.

  13. Great to see the Priors getting support instead of criticism, which sometimes creeps into these columns. Reality is also right – why don’t the Brits stick together like the Spanish do? Barricade themselves in the house and get other ex-pats to surround it. Surely what is needed is a bit of old-fashioned working-class action instead of the grin-and-bear-it approach? But the problem is age – most ex-pats are well beyond the age which would make this possible and in any case the Spanish police won’t have it – they’d come at the Brits with drawn batons and blood will flow. I’m also not so sure they’d even prevent the bulldozers doing their cowardly work with Brits still inside!
    Rob Aussie – if only Australia were closer! But even then I’d think twice, the cost of a building plot is scandalous and hints at corruption in high places anyway. A huge continent with vast land reserves and small population should be a dream destination, but it isn’t. Too many big landowners in control.
    Back to the Junta. In the last year has been revealed that officials have been setting up huge pensions for company’s designed to fail – corruption on a vast scale, probably mafia-related, costing the EU an estimated billion euros and yet the same Junta sanctions the bulldozing of a pensioners house! That to me says it all about officialdom in Spain. Come to Spain but be prepared for just about anything.

  14. Lenox, in other words you don´t actually KNOW how much money is involved. It´s all guesswork on your part. And that´s what I thought.

    In fact, after reading some of the comments on here I often wonder why anyone would go so far as to buy a house in Spain, be they Spanish or not. Yet they do so, in their millions. And the vast majority of them do so entirely legally.

    In fact, I often wonder why anyone would choose to live in Spain at all. I do so, and very happily. But clearly some of the comments written above are written by people who don´t live in Spain. Why on earth would they if they have such a jaundiced view?

  15. Tony – “Yet they do so, in their millions. And the vast majority of them do so entirely legally”
    Problem is, as the Priors discovered, there are different interpretations to the word ‘legal’
    To have a truly legal house you need honest mayors, honest builders, honest architects, honest planners, honest lawyers, honest Notaries, etc. How is one to know? You just don’t, any corrupt link in the chain could be disaster, you take a risk if you want to live in Spain and many thousands have been caught out. It’s as simple as that.

  16. antonio2, your observation does not explain why millions of Spanish people buy houses and live in them totally free of stress and worry.

    The answer may lie in the fact that those homes are in villages, towns and cities, and not out in the campo. And the campo is where most of those problem houses are located.

    Yes, I have every sympathy with people who bought homes innocently, not knowing that what they had bought was illegal. Fortunately, the regional governments, with the backing of the national government, is trying to sort that lot out to the home owner´s advantage.

    However, there is still a tiny minority of homes where question marks hang over them. And that is why they make headlines, because there are so few of them.

    Nevertheless, I have a suspicion that some of those foreign home owners bought their homes cheaply in the hope that things would stay hidden away from prying eyes. As I say, that is just my suspicion and I have no evidence to support that.

    All I know is that I have met many guiris who treat Andalucía like the Wild West, never dreaming for one moment to try to do things legally. That especially applies to working here without the necessary papers, paying taxes and social security. Working legally is for fools it seems. They might not have done that at home but they try it on here. That attitude feeds my suspicions.

  17. @ Tony Bishop – this article is about a British couple who had paid their dues and now in their retirement years have chosen to reside in a ‘so called’, friendly European country. If you are familiar with their case, then you will know that, (details aside), Len and Helen Prior were targeted by the Junta de Andalucia, isolated and humiliated over the demolition of their home. The justice system has failed them and even the European Commission cannot offer help because the problem is outside their domain. Tough for the Priors!

    Some 300,000+ property owners, many of them British and other foreign Expats are in fact in a similar situation here in Andalucia; living with building licences that have been revoked and living in fear of demolition. You may think that your Utopia is preserved Tony, but Spain’s property market is trashed and but for a few bargain bucket properties that come on the market, Spain’s real estate market remains an unattractive proposition.

    Bless those living at Camp Prior.

  18. @M in Spain. Yes, I can read.

    However, you seem to find reading difficult, at least when it comes to reading my comments. I did not claim to live in a Utopia. Also I said “I have every sympathy with people who bought homes innocently, not knowing that what they had bought was illegal.”

    You claim that 300,000+ property owners are “in a similar situation here in Andalucia; living with building licences that have been revoked and living in fear of demolition.”

    The typicallyspanish.com website puts the figure of homes affected much, much lower, at 700 in fact. http://www.typicallyspanish.com/news/publish/article_35547.shtml

    When you consider the number of homes that exist throughout Andalucía, 700 is a tiny percentage. Seville alone has over 1 million inhabitants.

    That leaves us with one question. Why is it mostly Northern Europeans that face these problems? After all, there are Spanish people who move to Andalucía from other parts of Spain who seem to avoid these kinds of problems.

    One part of the answer must be that every problematic homeowner has a different background to everyone else. That would certainly bear out my experience.

    I know British people who built “rural agricultural storage buildings” and now live in them, in direct opposition to the law affecting buildings in a Parque Natural (Natural Park). Others live harmoniously in villages.

    I know foreign people who bought houses near the Costa de la Luz, some of whom knew full well that the homes were illegally built (no legal electricity supply) but bought them cheaply anyway. Others bought their homes in ignorance and just thought they had got a “bargain”. Now, of course, both groups are claiming that the authorities are acting unjustly.

    Some people arrived here in the expectation that everyone they had contact with would speak English and knew next to nothing about buying a home. Others came fully prepared, including having a working knowledge of the Spanish language.

    However, this is my last word on this subject. I do not take kindly to people putting words into my mouth that I did not utter, and cannot read what I wrote.

  19. The usual figure of ‘vivienddas ilegales’ in Andalucía is put at 300,000, which is the same number of homes as there are in the city of Málaga. Odd that the totally anal Junta de Andalucía, which makes me get a permit to ride my horse from my house to the next door village, which issues licences for metal detectors (thirty in 2012 for Almería), which knows the number of people living in any and all municipalities down to the last baby… didn’t notice 300,000 houses being built, painted, decorated, sold and paid for, in front of lawyers, town hall officials, notaries and bankers… until the last cheque had been cleared. If it was less houses that the usually accepted number, it is still 12,000 homes in the obscure area of the upper Almanzora in Almería, without going any further (Cartama, Axarquía etc).
    But this is about one house, in Vera. One of eight ‘illegal’ houses in a quiet nowhere. Not on the beach, not on the motorway, not in a riverbed. And yes, it has cost the good and utterly unemployed people of Almería billions.- now that’s bad politics.

  20. Only 700 – has that figure been proven?

    The point you miss completely Tony Bishop is that in any northern European country any illegal building would have the police arresting those responsible on day 2 of any illegal construction.

    Try to illegally convert a barn in the UK/Netherlands/Germany and see what happens.

    It is the Spanish who created the ‘wild west mentality’ and of course when the wide boys found out it attracted them like wasps to the honey pot.

    Here in France if a marie tried to act arrogantly and corruptly he might well get a good beating, or a hunter might accidentally discharge his gun in his direction. Sure corruption is alive and well in Paris and other big cities but not in rural France.

    Right now I’m out and about looking at land and talking to farmers, if I find a farmer who wants to sell a piece of land we will visit the appropriate marie together and it’s either yes or no – there will be no backhanders, no bent lawyers, no bent planners. I will have to build up to a standard and the work will be progress checked from start to finish with officials that have real qualifications – no nightmare waiting for us down the road – it is the corrupt and lazy Spanish authorities who are to blame 100%.

  21. Tony,
    I repeat it is the corrupt and lazy Spanish aurthorities that created the whole mess.

    Also it always amazes me that anyone buying property anywhere that have zero experience in construction never bother to use the i/net to see what exactly constitutes cost effective and quality building techniques.

    It’s all there on the web – why are so many so lazy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again there are no houses/apartment blocks built in Spain that would receive building consents anywhere in northern Europe.

    Item – the woman who lost her home to the recent fires – it had a thatched roof, why on earth anyone would buy such a home in a known wildfire area.

    The woman who complained that her children could’nt get to sleep because the neighbours were playing their hi-fi – why did’nt she look first at the way the Spanish build and see that internal walls and that includes party walls made of those awful cavity clay blocks that are only 70mm thick and provide zero acoustic insulation.

    Is this difficult no, not if your sighted – all you have to do is look at any house/apartment construction to see how they build.

    The problem is that so many refuse to see the reality because it interferes with their ‘dream’. There should be zero input of dreams when buying a home – it should only ever be about hard cold facts.

    Had foreigners from the north taken this sensible attitude they would never have bought the rubbish that the Spanish create – they would either have built themselves (which many Dutch and Germans do) or looked elsewhere.

    Flooding – who is stupid enough to buy or build on a flood plain or in or near an arroyo. Does anyone remember that great TV programme – Out of Town, presented by Jack Hargreaves ” the Saxons always built above the highest flood levels” and Celts always chose to live on the hills – much healthier than living in valleys.

    Where I live in the Aveyron all the farms are built on the high ground and their barns are always built well above ground level – all simple common sense.

    Last year 45 people died on the Atlantic coast of France – because they bought homes that were well below sea level and they drowned when the sea breached the sea defences – the reason is simple they had totally lost contact (if they ever had it) with the real world. One can blame the maries who allowed this construction but where was the common sense to stop anyone from buying such potential death traps.

    The problem is that so many have, through generations lost any contact with the real world but they don’t or won’t realise this, hence all the problems that occur.

  22. Ok, I´ll give you an easier question. That last one was probably a bit too difficult.

    “The point you miss completely Tony Bishop is that in any northern European country any illegal building would have the police arresting those responsible on day 2 of any illegal construction.”

    Do you have any proof that I missed that?

  23. In other words, you don´t have an answer to that first question I asked above.

    “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again there are no houses/apartment blocks built in Spain that would receive building consents anywhere in northern Europe.”

    You can repeat that till you are blue in the face, but that does not make it any the more true. To paraphrase what you wrote above, do you have any proof to substantiate that statement?

  24. Well, well, what have we here?
    “http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/14/flood-risk-new-homes-ignored”

    I used to live close to such a housing development. Apparently the homeowners thought that their homes would never be flooded. Otherwise the local authorities would not have allowed the construction to go ahead. First heavy rain came…and what do you think happened next?

  25. Tony B., I’m sure that despite your comments you have the best interests of unfortunate pensioners such as the Priors at heart??
    That discussion seems to have deteriorated into a nit-picking session, which helps no-one.
    The figures for ‘illegal homes’ are out there for all to see, whether or not licences have been revoked.
    AUAN estimates as follows, quote
    “AUAN estimate there are around 300,000 ‘illegal’ homes in Andalucia, affecting about 900,000 people, representing a total investment of approximately 60 billion euros.” Unquote.
    You couldn’t produce a comedy as idiotic as that and the Junta sit on their fat ‘a…s’ trying to find ways to make the situation worse.

  26. antonio2. I have already answered your question.

    I said:
    “Yes, I have every sympathy with people who bought homes innocently, not knowing that what they had bought was illegal.”

    You said “That discussion seems to have deteriorated into a nit-picking session, which helps no-one.” So I wonder why you continue in that vein.

    Now it is up to people to decide for themselves which figure they want to believe. Is it 700 homes or 300,000?

  27. Having given that 300,000 homes figure some thought, I decided top do a little research.

    According to Wikipedia, Seville (the fourth largest city in Spain) has a population of about 703,000 (2011 statistic).
    “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seville”

    So that would mean that the number of people affected by illegal home building – 900,000 according to AUAN – is even greater than the total population of Seville. The only comment I can offer is “I don´t think so”.

  28. AUAN is just one organisation, there are others, such as SOHA. Perhaps someone from that organisation could add a comment?
    And T.B. my comment on the difference between your sum of 700 homes and AUAN’s 300,000 homes is hardly nit-picking.

  29. Tony Bishop,
    what experience do you have in the construction industry – OK I’ll answer that one for you – none at all.

    Are you even aware of building Regs Part 11 that applies to all home construction in the UK – no I thought not.

    Thank you for your 12.12 post which confirms what I said about stupid people completely divorced from ‘the real world’.

    The big construction companies can bankrupt any local authority with appeal after appeal for building projects.Which is why these projects go ahead.

    Which do you think applies to the UK or indeed Spain – is society a function of business or is business a function of society – the answer is obvious but the response needed terrifies the serfs, who are frightened by their own shadow.

    Antonio2 is quite right in Spain as a whole there are hundreds of thousands of illegally built homes – your only reply to Antonio2 is ‘I don’t think so’ thought is not reality Tony – only reality is real – you ask others to provide facts instead of conceding the argument.

  30. Stuart Crawford, you said:
    “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again there are no houses/apartment blocks built in Spain that would receive building consents anywhere in northern Europe.”

    I asked:
    “To paraphrase what you wrote above, do you have any proof to substantiate that statement?”

    In other words, no, you don´t. Thanks for the confirmation.

  31. T.B. provided a link in one of his submissions which may explain the argument about numbers. If I read it correctly, the figure of 700 are those already ‘before the courts’. The 300,000 are mostly those issued with a licence by the corrupt system and have yet to have a light shone upon them by the same corrupt system in order for licences to be revoked.
    An anomaly which seems to be inferred from recent proclamations by the Junta is that those constructions totally illegal, i.e. builders arrive on site with a bulldozer, no licence, no taxes paid, no paperwork at all may escape demolition altogether because no-one either knows they exist or are conveniently ignored by the overflying surveys. Maybe they belong to prominent landowners, politicians, mayors, judges, etc.?
    Their licences can’t be revoked because they don’t exist!
    Maybe we should have all done the same!!

  32. Tony Bishop,
    thanks for confirming the obvious – you have absolutely no experience in the construction business but your ego cannot admit this.

    Why don’t you visit all the northern European online government sites that spell out the building regs required in each country – don’t be so lazy – do it yourself.

    In the whole of northern Europe there are legal requirements re. thermal/acoustic insulation, fire prevention, minimum acceptable electrical wiring regs – non of which are recognized or used in Spain.

    Of course there could be another reason why you persist in denial syndrome – you have a vested interest in selling the crap built Spanish property – if not then it’s just a case of a big ego that can’t possibly be wrong.

  33. Stuart Crawford, you made that rather grandiose statement, not I. It is for you to find the evidence, and not I.

    I am happily retired and do not have, and never have had, any business selling homes in any country. Fortunately.

  34. Stuart Crawford, let me remind you what you claimed. It might also be useful for any readers who have not followed this discussion as closely as I have.

    You said (with my emphasis):
    “there are NO HOUSES/APARTMENT BLOCKS built in Spain that would receive building consents ANYWHERE IN NORTHERN EUROPE.”

    Needless to say, I found that incredible. But I am prepared to admit that it is true if the evidence is forthcoming. So far, it has been absent.

    No houses built in Spain? Really?

    No apartments in Spain? How can you be sure?

    Anywhere in Northern Europe? Would you like to give us a list of those countries that you consider to be in Northern Europe?

    However, because you made that claim, it is for you to provide the evidence to substantiate it. Of course, I completely understand if you are unable to do that. In that case, I expect you to retract that claim.

  35. Olive Press Headline: British couple launch compensation claim over demolition of home in Spain
    Tony Bishop: Unsubstantiated claims…
    Lenox: Doing untold damage to Spain
    Tony Bishop: Unsubstantiated claims…
    Antonio2: 300,000 illegal homes
    Tony Bishop: Unsubstantiated claims…
    Stuart: Crap`quality building
    Tony Bishop: Unsubstantiated claims…
    Next!

  36. Lenox: How much foreign exchange has the region lost thanks to this ill-considered attack on this couple who only wanted to retire, peacefully, in Vera?
    T.B: Good question. Just how much foreign exchange has the region lost? Do you know?
    Lenox: No, I´m afraid I don´t.

    Next.

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