Few things, perhaps, better illustrate the impotence of MEPs, of the European parliament, and of the EU institutions generally, than the Spanish Property Scam.
Throughout my career as an MEP, I have received heartbreaking and tragic letters from dozens of constituents who have invested significant sums of money – sometimes their entire savings – in a Spanish property, only to lose it to an unforeseen legal loophole. Many older couples have sold up in the UK and spent every penny on their dream retirement home on the Costas, and have enjoyed the view and the lifestyle for months or even years, only to wake up one morning to find an eviction notice on the mat, and bulldozers at the gate.
There is the Spanish Coastal law, which in operation if not in intent appears to apply retrospectively, so that property which was legal and above-board when purchased is suddenly deemed to be contrary to planning laws and torn down. This law appears not appear to apply to large developments which bring in tourists and can afford to pay back-handers to local officials. The properties destroyed are often replaced by hotel or apartment developments. To add insult to injury, the previous owners not only lose their property, but may then be required to contribute to the finance to provide utilities for the new development.
In other cases it’s simply collusion between corrupt mayors, politicians, bureaucrats, planning authorities and lawyers. Purchasers believe they have exercised due diligence, that their lawyers have carried out searches and established title, only for it all to fall apart later. Or they buy a not-yet-built apartment “off plan”, and the developer goes bust. The lucky ones are those who lose only their deposit. For anyone contemplating purchasing a property in Spain, my advice remains: Don’t.
The problem applies not only to my East Midlands constituents, but to people from all over Britain, and indeed all over the EU – Germany, France, Holland and so on. Even Spanish citizens have been caught in the trap. So what are we MEPs doing about it? We have raised it again and again in the Petitions Committee (on which I sit). We have demanded action from the Commission, who have listened anxiously and assured us of their concern. We have issued press releases and statements and blogs and warnings, and video clips of impassioned parliamentary speeches on YouTube. We have asked the Commission to withhold EU funding from Spain until action is taken.
And what have we achieved? Frankly, not much. The Spanish regions blame the government, the Spanish government blames the regions, and Spanish MEPs complain of foreign interference in the legal system of their sovereign state. The problem clearly breaches the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which mandates a right of property. Yet scandalously, the Commission slips off this hook with a positively Jesuitical legal loophole: it argues that the Charter is a European Charter, and protects rights under European law, but not under national law. So you thought you had a right to property – but not in Spain.
It has been a huge frustration that I’ve had to write, again and again, to desperate owners and say Yes, OK, I understand the problem, I’m making a noise and protesting, but beyond that, there’s nothing I can do, no advice I can give.
So I was pleased to hear from a firm of solicitors with offices in the East Midlands (at Oundle) who tell me that they specialise in Spanish Legal and Property Services, with a dedicated team including a Spanish lawyer. Find them on www.hcsolicitors.co.uk. At least they are one more avenue to pursue if your Spanish property problem has reached an impasse.
Disclaimer: I have no interest in, or commercial or other connection, with this firm. I have not used them, nor do I know anyone who has. I am therefore not in a position to recommend or endorse them, nor to take any responsibility for any advice they may give (though I am reassured to see that they are accredited by the Law Society). As always, my advice is caveat emptor. But then if only people had followed that advice, they wouldn’t have had the problem in the first place.
A further Caveat
A further caveat from Michael Marsh, who has been very active in protesting against the Spanish Property scam. He writes that he has come across other solicitors offering to deal with Spanish property issues, but “to date we have never personally heard of any success stories. The trouble one faces in Spain is that by the time one hears of what is going to happen to your property it is already too late to take legal action. Getting a matter to Court here can take up to 4 years by which time your house has been demolished and you’ve no doubt died of a heart attack due to the stress. Even when Court Orders have been issued by a Judge to stop any demolition or development taking place the Court Orders have been blatantly ignored”. Sorry I can’t bring better news.