Expats face heartache as Junta orders home demolition and imposes 80,000 euro fine
Olive Press Exclusive – Mark Roulston in Lanjarón
A RETIRED British couple in La Alpujarra are to have their home demolished in a dispute with the regional government.
John and Jenny Harvey have been ordered to pay a fine of 81,000 euros and face the prospect of losing their home in the peaceful mountain region.
In a case that mirrors the recent demolition in Almería (see last issue), the Harveys deny their retirement home is illegal, claiming they have all the correct documentation given to them by the town hall in Lanjaron.
“We have always done things by the book. We made sure we had all the correct licences to make sure our home is legal.
“We are faced with financial ruin,” Jenny, 58, told the Olive Press this week.
The couple moved to Lanjaron in 2003, after buying their two-bedroom, converted farm warehouse home for 25,000 euros.
But what was to be their dream, soon turned into a nightmare following a visit by Junta de Andalucía officials.
This followed a complaint by a neighbour, alleging that the building was not correctly registered as a home.
“All these allegations are cuckoo, totally crazy. We are just normal people who want to lead a normal life,” former builder John, 64, said.
“Now, we are trapped. We do not want to go out, as we are afraid the bulldozers are going to turn up any minute,” he added.
The Harveys were told in a letter on December 28, 2007, that their home was set to be knocked down on February 1 this year.
Even though the couple’s lawyer managed to delay the demolition until the end of this month, the Harveys need to obtain a bond for the 81,000 euro fine.
“How can we do this? We can’t afford to buy a plane ticket home. When we came here we moved lock, stock and barrel. The regional government is going to make us homeless,” Jon said.
The retired couple, who spent 200,000 euros in renovating the former farm warehouse, claim they are being victimised by the Junta de Andalucía.
“We have come to a country we love and we are passionate about the area. We have invested a lot of money and we employed local people to work on our home.
“We have been left devastated by the whole affair,” Jenny said. “With regional elections coming up, I think it is political.”
In desperation, they have turned to Euro MP Michael Cashman, who recently slammed the housing situation in Spain following an official visit to the country.
Following his advice, the Harveys have sent a petition to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, from which they are awaiting a reply.
“We believe we are being treated inhumanely. We have not slept for weeks,” Jenny, a former legal executive, said.
“A life sentence is hanging over us. We cannot sell up nor can we mortgage our home to pay this fine.”
Friends are rallying around the couple to offer them support. “I feel terrible for them. They have done everything they were supposed to and now this is happening. The town hall in Lanjarón told them there would be no problems for them and now this.
“They could lose everything,” Raffael Bellandini claimed.
News of the demolition comes after an English couple in Vera, Almería, had their villa knocked down after the regional government claimed it was illegally built.
The Junta de Andalucía has also issued demolition orders on 300 homes in Mijas.
Following international media coverage of the Vera case, Spanish property expert Mark Stucklin believes people should not be dissuaded from buying homes in Spain.
“The vast majority of properties in Spain have absolutely no legal issues. But people should be cautious. If you want to buy in Spain, you just have to take care.”
As they say this is a warehouse, Almacen, and not a house, casa – casa de aperos – vivienda. It cannot be legally lived in. Sorry but they should have applied for a change of use, re registered the building in the Registro, and Catastro, then turned it into a home. If they had done the same in the UK it would have had the same result, Converted barns have to be “converted” you cant just move into them. They have been ill advised by their technical service (asuming they used any). This is a stern warning that the wheels of government turn slowly but they are finally catching up with the clever clogs who think this is Africa and that the law does not apply to foreigners.
It costs nothing to look on the website of the catastro “oficina virtual del catastro” where you can see what a plot or building is clasified as. If the building doesn’t show up it isn’t registered and thus is illegal. If it is described as smaller then the extension may not have been registered and be illegal. If it is shpwn as secano it means there is no legal right to water. Also public paths, railways, and water courses are shown. And it is free.
In response to the comments made by P. Santamaria, regretfully there was a slight error in the story probably missed by me owing to lack of sleep and worry. In fact the property in question was not a warehouse but a cortijo/farmhouse and a ruin. It has been lovingly restored with all materials from the ruin being used and all planning consents obtained.
Response l feel for the couple very much. Here in Monda there is a pandoras Box waiting to be opened, heavy fines, some being taken to court. if you are pensioners like us,and cant pay it is a living nightmare.people dont know that once you pay the fine you are stating that you are guilty.and then there is no assurance that they will not take you to court…. only thing here is people are to afraid to speak out.but l am not lets hope this couple have some luck. someone should make it clear that a STOP should be put on persecuteing people.and bring the new URBAN Plans in .will be in contact again.
An awful situation, I hope they got it sorted…
So typical in Spain that the building is sold to someone who wants a home and instead it’s labeled as a shed or something.
Thankfully with enough time these things are fixable.
Sadly, the demolition order that John and Jenny face is truly tragic given that, ill-advised or otherwise, they believe they have followed the rule book in respect of planning procedures.
What this couple face, is in fact a ‘stern’ warning to foreigners planning on investing in property and land in Spain that they might well face truly great challenges when they find themselves with their back against the wall.
With reference to P. Santamaria; the Catastro is in fact an unfinished public document with inaccuracies and even today, still requires the co operation of the public to help bring it up-to-date. If prospective foreign buyers had any knowledge of this they would surely think twice about investing here in Spain.
Also, given that P. Santamaria appears knowledgeable about the Catastro would he/she like to expand further and comment on the full meaning and the implications of the term ‘Diseminado’, as described in the Catastro.