27 Nov, 2013 @ 17:37
2 mins read

JAMES CONEY: Retired expats whose Spanish homes may be demolished are victims of corruption on monumental scale

James Coney

By JAMES CONEY for The Daily Mail

THE retired expats whose Spanish homes now may be demolished are the victims of corruption on a monumental scale.

I can imagine that many of those reading the plight of these buyers would think they had it coming.

Many will probably say they should have done the proper checks, were naive and even greedy.

It’s certainly true that some were too trusting – a fact many readily acknowledge. They put faith in local estate agents, lawyers, developers and officials, without realising that these groups were often all in cahoots.

They weren’t trying to make a fast buck, but had given up their life in the UK and moved away from their families to live in a country whose culture and climate they loved.

They weren’t leeching off the local economy, they were adding to it. Around a million homes in Spain were built without proper planning permission.

It wasn’t just Brits caught out by the property scandal; it’s possibly more than half a million Spaniards, plus tens of thousands of Germans and Dutch.

And, as we reveal in our four-page special investigation, even the Spanish government doesn’t seem to know which properties are legal and which aren’t, such is the confusion over how building licences were granted.

With the UK’s onerous planning laws, it is hard to imagine how such a situation can arise. Now vast swathes of these homes are threatened by demolition.

It’s difficult to see how the random and heartless destruction of people’s homes is going to make life any better for anyone.

If the intention is to return some of the protected land back to its former state, the Spanish government shows no signs of doing this.

If it’s to teach someone a lesson, then who? It’s not the crooks paying, it’s the innocent victims.

Some developers, town mayors and local officials have been prosecuted for allowing building on land which was protected.

But many have escaped fines and compensation they were ordered to pay by going bankrupt. They often still live in the community – among people whose lives they ruined.

There is no winner here. And if the Spanish authorities want to restore faith in their housing market, they are undermining these efforts by this mindless cycle of destruction.

They’d be better off ensuring those at fault are never in the position to do this again, and leave the victims to get on with their lives.

Currently, there is nothing many of the expats can do. They are too honest to try to sell their homes to other unwitting buyers. And, besides, many of the villas are on building sites which have been abandoned for seven years – they’re hardly a tantalising prospect.

Many of these expats have good pensions, but would face a substantially poorer retirement if they had to move back to the UK and rent.

So, they live on and keep fighting the Spanish authorities for justice, never really knowing whether today, or tomorrow, may be the last they spend in their home.


  1. Spain is a very loose unión of 17 autonomous regions. Each region has its own government and civil service.
    Spaniards have accepted bribery within their bureaucracies for centuries and it is a solid aspect of life here.
    When most young people want to be funcionarios and there are more vacancies for them tan in any other occupation, you just know Spain can not recover.
    The sad part is that disunity is fostered by all funcionarios in order to protect their duplicitous incomes.
    This evil process is keeping employment in the legal profession at a high level and driving the courts to fail in their duties of care.
    The real problema is that there is no over-sight of what the autonomous regions do and the wholesale cancellation of licences to build property in Andalucia is probably the biggest and least talked about aspect of the problem.
    Too much power resides in too many dirty hands.

  2. Beyond words. This is the part of Spain that really embarrasses me. I believe all the expats living in Spain need to join this family in a street protest. Put it up on the internet. Keep making lots of noise.

  3. This story operates at several different levels. First is the illegal building on designated “green belt” or Rustic land. No one can agree with that, any more than we should if a Spaniard started to build a load of houses on the village green in Chipping Norton. If you want to re-designate the land, then fine, but until then he houses are illegal. In the original story they couple shown say they found it bizarre that the garage and the pool were left, from which we can gather that they understand absolutely nothing about how the system works, in allowing a “casa de aperos” and an “Aljbe”. But then there is the question of whether they were assured by the Town hall that it was OK, and whether they paid money for the “permiso”. At this point it can become even more confused, when you realise that there MUST have been lawyers involved. There must also have been the involvement of the Catastral office, the IBI office, signing off the ‘projecto’ by the architect, and Technical architect and the builder, before getting it all stamped up, then a ‘licencia de primer occupacion’, and so on. From the examples given in the full article I very much doubt whether any of this was even attempted in any of the cases. Some of the couples admit they were very stupid to do what they did. I do tend to agree.

  4. The problem lies at a deeper level than the autonomous regions. In order to get the post-Franco Constitution ratified the Federal government had to cede land use and urban planning rights to the municipal level of government.

    My good friend had an apprenticeship in our local ayuntamiento planning office in Asturias. I asked her how planning decisions were made. She responded: First it is necessary for the municipal office of the architect/tecnico to see whether there are any violations of EU directives; second, they check against national laws; third they check the application against regulations within the autonomous community (CA). Finally, and here is the source of the problem, local municipal authorities would see if there are objections at the Municipal level.

    Of course, this procedure is upside down: the EU has set out fairly clear directives for procuring permits and achieving architectural standards. So has the Madrid. And, it has been my own experience that at the CA the Planning Office struggles with needed planning reforms, including wresting power away from municipal thugs. However, because the planning laws are defined, enforced and specified locally in accordance with the Constitution, municipal authorities pick and choose which directives they follow, generally, ignoring any but their own. And because these are locally written, locally enforced and appealed locally, local interest groups change criteria and interpretation as they please.

    A Spanish academic friend explained to me: “In Spain we don’t have individuals; we have groups. Alcaldes realize that individuals do not have power, so they bow to the pressure of local economic groups, such as livestock associations, miners unions, tourism and restaurant associations, etc., who control the local economy.”

    And there is almost always someone within the local status hierarchy who will raise objections because they want something from a project: cash, employment or public recognition as a power player.

    Local planning boards, then, are made up of notables from these same local corporatist associations. Consequently, local planning regulations are written in such a way to make any and all proposed projects subject to interpretations, if not illegal, UNLESS a variance is granted. This means in practice that one or more locally important ‘interest’ groups must be ‘brought into’ the project as (usually) a general contractor or materials supplier. The corrupt system requires that the home owner entrust billing,payment and construction to the general contractor so that padding of labor, materials and machine/truck rentals are not visible. The contractor will build to material and environmental standards which suit local labor and materials suppliers or, just as likely, his own low level of modern construction practice. If the contractor or project designer makes enough money off the project, including the local political boss, he can spread the money around, and the permit is likely issued. My architect friends states that construction costs are at least double, even triple, what they should be because of the layers of graft.

    A substantial portion of the corrupt money is built into the project proposal since the ‘tecnico’ or architect who prepares the project for municipal approval will build into the budget the various envelopes of money needed to satisfy decision makers. It is important to note that ALL the private tecnicos in a region collude with the municipal tecnicos and expect their own share. One is expected to accept the municipal tecnicos recommendation for which ‘private’ tecnico, architect and contractor to use. You are expected to work within their network so that all costs are controlled by them.

    If the contractor does not have enough to pay off all the expectant entities (everyone wants at least 10% of what they calculate it is worth), or some notable is overlooked or a local election changes the decision-making scheme, the case will be re-opened by means of a official ‘denuncia’. In crasser cases the new politician will simply suggest that ‘more thought’ is needed to ensure project success.

    Finally, there is another element affecting decision-making: invidia. Having the political clout and money to build your own house, especially, as an outsider, triggers this peculiarly Iberian response. “Who are YOU to have a new house HERE?” This is not necessarily envy over your type, style or quality of house. Rather, the question is who are you to get something, anything, that I don’t have. Especially, if one is not rooted within the community.

    Northern Europeans and North Americans are not accustomed to this socio-economic, political minefield. Generally speaking, our experience with civil servants has been better. We may well encounter indifferent, lazy or petty civil servants. though not at the level of viciousness encountered in many parts of Spain. In Great Britain there are fairly Draconian planning regulations, but rarely the level of taken-for-granted corruption and incompetence we encounter here.

    There is much to be said about this topic. This has been my area of research for many years. Until national politicians find the will and a way to amend the Constitution, I am not hopeful of rapid change. But it is import and to be informed and fight on. And never to blame the victim.

  5. As an American who bought property in Cantabria several years ago…fortunately, now problem currently..the property is now rented…now back in States//Key West, Florida permanently.

    That said, I have watched, read and experience the disaster that is the Spanish housing industry riddled with corruption at every level…those poor people from the UK and other countries who “bet” their financial well being on what was a tier of corruption..I really feel for.

    The governments of the UK, Holland, Germany and other could assist by making is clear to the public that buying any property in Spain is bad until which time the Spanish government resolves the multitude of problems.

    However, I doubt nothing will transpire..the country is locked in a spiral of subtle corruption..they call it good business..but, those of us know better.


  6. PM – you have obviously NOT read the original stories.
    A huge number of these unfortunate people did everything they could to copmply with the law in Spain but the crookedness and greed of officials AT EVERY LEVEL left them stranded.
    Licences were applied for and granted.
    The first occupation licences were granted so that they could contract for essential services.
    The Junta de Andalucia actually annulled the licences and reclassified the land the houses stood on.
    The common concensus is that these people (and many of them are Spanish) did everything right but fell foul of the results of the actions of funcionarios who, incidentally, have little fear of being made to pay for their gross neglect of the duty of care implied in their occupations. Indeed, some of them tried to get the house owners to surrender their copies of all the licences so that they would not be able to even TRY to defend themselves.
    This is a bureaucratic nightmare and NO-ONE has the will to do more than chat between themselves while the exceedingly slow legal system continues to grind exceedingly small.

  7. As above comments show, there is hardly hope for change. The politicians/functionarios have no incentive to improve things. Buyers will logically follow the safest path of — only buy existing properties over 5-7 years old. Let the banks go broke keeping the new/bankrupt/foreclosed properties.

  8. Chas/Randall and Arthur Webster,
    thank you for your excellent contributions. I’m sure that the ‘everything in Spain is wonderful’ brigade will be along soon to tell you all your posts are lies and —- well you know the rest.

  9. Chas and Arthur those were both excellent posts and thank you for writing them. So true. As clear as water as the people say here. Will it change? No, it won’t. Self-interests which have been existing here since 1935 and are only made stronger with the passage of time.

    2013 – Españoles. Franco no ha muerto.

  10. Brujiño I am sure that many of them would love to go back to UK BUT they can’t because the savings they invested in Spain has been stolen from them. It is odd that Spanish friends who have moved to UK to look for work are receiving MORE in benefits than I get as a pension. People from the UK in Spain do not even qualify to ask for help. Nice knee jerk, by the way!

  11. Chas, you are right. Very good posts and as said above there are so many people who have a reason to keep the Country as it that it will not change.

    I wanted to build a large extension, bigger than the existing property many years ago and I hit all the things you are talking about. They wanted me to build a Road on my own land and guess what building Company I had to use, the Mayor’s. Funny thing was they came to this conclusion without even viewing the land and it was only 3 miles from the town hall, they couldn’t be bothered to get their fat rears off of their chairs. Then they were making up fake taxes that started off at 10% and then probably because they have a bad memory they increased this to 20%, they even asked me to sign a blank A4 sheet of paper that they could fill in later! I gave up less than a year after starting this project and having spent €3,000. Before we started out we went to the Mayor as well and he said no problems blah blah blah, but after they think you have spent a bit and are committed they bring out all this other nonsense. The problem is there are many legal properties but even when you have title deeds they can still be knocked down (like the Priors) so your half intelligent person who cannot afford to take such a gamble doesn’t bother as it is now very difficult to tell what is illegal and what isn’t, even a .1% chance is enough to put most people off. You can see why I left.

  12. Homes in Spain will continue to fall next years, cheap houses are still homes that nobody wants, ads can be months for sale and nobody buys. Now the sellers try to sell them to foreign like British or Nordic. Be careful.

  13. ahh you’re not living here either Reap… another one..

    Aren’t you all just bitter that you’re NOT living in Spain and things didn’t work out for you? Funny how the people with seemingly bad attitudes on this blog ‘didn’t fit in’ here. Hmmmm

    Just off for some mid morning socialising and a tostada.

  14. Oh my friend, The Rt Hon Rev Ad Hominem Mr Roger Stevens teacher can’t read, I am not living there but could live there if I wanted to, but why would I do that, I like living in a better Country for me, the UK. Even when I am old like you I don’t think I will live there, I have been through that phase of thinking that the sun means everything and excuse the pun but I have now seen the light. Anyway, where is your back up cacayaya, who has a son that purchased a place in Mexico, then it changed to him, first he was English running a building Company in the UK, then he was Italian, then they can only afford one computer for the asylum, cat & dog sending emails as well… You are right, I did not fit in that corrupt Country, I don’t want to fit in there and fortunately for me I could leave and I feel sorry for the others that want to leave but cannot. If you are not corrupt or an estate agent you must just be easily pleased or not had to deal with the officials very often. There are some nice Spanish people though but I have ot agree with most of the people above. Good luck in your Rose tinted world though, I wish I could view things like that sometimes, and I am not smoking that stuff to get there either.

  15. Well said, Reap, but don’t let the fact that the corruption in UK is hidden confuse you into thinking it is not there.
    Spain is a great country to live in but not a brilliant one in which to own certain types of property. Fortunately, renting is a relatively painless and very economical alternative.
    Dealing with Spanish bureaucracy is a little more time consuming than in other countries but it only takes a small effort to ease the process.
    Those of us who make the effort and are content with what already (legally) exists are, for the most part, very happy here. Most of the moaning is nothing more than a manifestation of the British mentality – being so miserable keeps us happy.

  16. I’d stop wasting your time being obsessed by Spain then Reap & let us enjoy Spain as much as is possible (if that’s ok?).

    P.S. Who said I was a teacher? ha ha That used to be our best friend on here Fred would you believe!!!

    ‘Being so miserable keeps us happy.’ That’s the difference Arthur ha ha.
    Everything is HORRIBLE brigade! Baaaaaaah!

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