Homeowners win first fight against 'land grab'

13th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

13 July 2004, BRUSSELS - Thousands of British and other foreign homeowners in Spain have won the first skirmish of a battle to recoup life savings lost after homes were demolished or left worthless by ruthless property developers operating under what have become known as "land grab" laws, it was reported Tuesday.

13 July 2004

BRUSSELS - Thousands of British and other foreign homeowners in Spain have won the first skirmish of a battle to recoup life savings lost after homes were demolished or left worthless by ruthless property developers operating under what have become known as "land grab" laws, it was reported Tuesday.

A report to the European Parliament has denounced "serious abuses" committed under the terms of a "surrealistic" land law in the Valencia region of eastern Spain, while also demanding compensation for thousands of people who have lost homes and money, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The law not only allows developers to expropriate part of an owner's land or house, but also means that they can, in effect, charge them for doing so.

Danny Loveridge, who retired to a 130-year-old farmhouse near the Valencian town of Benissa several years ago, says the European Parliament's report might be a first step to recovering some of the GBP 150,000 lost after developers moved in on his land.

"They took almost 75 percent of our land and gave us some other land that was worthless," he explained. "They knocked down our kitchen and bathroom. There is now a roundabout where our swimming pool used to be and a bathroom fittings shop where our house was," he said.

Loveridge was paid GBP 8,000 in compensation, but was then forced to pay the developers GBP 12,500 for the electricity, sewage, roads and other infrastructure for a proposed industrial estate.

He was forced to sell what remained of a GBP 260,000 property for around GBP 100,000.

"The law has led to a serious abuse of the most elementary rights of many thousands of European citizens by design or deceit," the report, drawn up by the European Parliament's petitions committee, said.

It condemns a "surrealistic" law which is abused by unscrupulous developers who bribe town hall officials and siphon money into offshore banking havens.

Threats have, on occasions, accompanied orders to hand over land, whose status is changed by town halls which lift building restrictions by reclassifying rural land as urban. Owners can not only be forced to hand over part of their land, but are also obliged to pay for unwanted "services" at a price set by developers.

The report comes after British, Spanish and other homeowners formed a group, Abusos Urbanisticos No (No to Urban Abuses), whose website has drawn thousands of complainants together.

"I can't imagine how you could design a system more perfectly to trap people and eat them alive," said Charles Svoboda, a retired Canadian diplomat who leads the group and is taking the law to the European Court of Justice. "Variations of this law have begun to spread all over Spain."

The Valencian law was introduced in 1995 to stop property speculators holding on to land along the fast-developing coast. But developers found they could use it against small property owners.

Some 190,000 holiday homes, valued at GBP 4 billion were built in Spain last year, with foreigners buying half of them. Britons already own some 800,000 homes in Spain.

The Valencian government has presented a draft of changes to the law, but both the European Parliament report and homeowners say they do not go far enough.

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Subject: Spanish news

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