Monday, July 12, 2010

Property in Spain

There has been a certain amount of excitement among the Northern European settlers in Spain after the head-on critical attack on President Zapatero from a rogue MEP during the plenary meeting in Strasbourg to close Spain’s six month presidency of the European Union. The attack came from Marta Andreasen, an MEP for the Euro-sceptic UKIP (an odd party perhaps for Ms Andreasen, a British citizen who lives in Barcelona and who has a marked Argentine accent, but then the Über-Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was born and raised in Peru and he doesn’t seem to think much of foreign politicians either). Andreasen compared Zapatero’s treatment of the mainly British owners of ‘illegal homes’ as approaching something dreamed up by President Mugabe, the Zimbabwean despot. There’s a video of her comments and Zapatero’s indignant answer here.
This comes after the new housing tsar for Andalucía, the ex IU mayoress for Cordoba Rosa Aguilar, said in a recent meeting in Cadiz that there are 300,000 illegal homes in Andalucía.
And God knows how many more in the rest of Spain.
There are in fact three different problems that home-owners, whether Spanish, European or foreigners must face, although oddly, most of the ‘victims’ of these problems turn out to be Britons. The three (essential) problems, misunderstood unfortunately by both Ms Andreasen and Mr Zapatero (if he cares) are ‘Land Grab’ (a popular concept where property is expropriated and the owner charged for urbanisation costs for his remaining stake, all for publicly sanctioned commercial reasons), ‘Illegal Homes’ (homes are planned, built, marketed and sold – almost always to Northern Europeans - and only then found to be illegal, thus leaving – apparently – hundreds of thousands of property owners in a extended state of doubt, stress and judicial uncertainty) and lastly the ‘Ley de Costas’, the Coastal Law which started out as a military order to allow clear fields of fire on the Nation’s coast and beaches. Now, while no one is clear on the rules (which vary from one municipality, owner, authority and situation, to the next), the Coastal Law can mean that no one can build within a certain, variable, distance from the water-line unless the rules are bent, ignored or, in some cases, satisfied with a fine. The 1988 version of this law will, apparently, be debated in the Spanish parliament this autumn, so maybe some sense will finally be made of it.
But let us return to Andalucía and the housing tsar Rosa Aguilar. Her predecessor, recently removed from his job after masterminding the demolition of one house in Vera, Almería, in 2008 – and causing a hullabaloo across the world (oddly enough, even in Zimbabwe during their elections) – had talked of homes being ‘ilegal’ and ‘legal’ and something very andaluz between these two extremes: ‘alegal’ – which would translate as something like ‘illegalish’. An elegant solution where everyone wanders off and talks about something else. Unfortunately, many of the illegal houses don’t have water or electric connections and, not being registered officially, the owners can’t pay property taxes or, of course, vote.
Rosa Aguilar thinks that the answer might lie in forcing the owners of these properties to pay urbanising costs which, at least in Chiclana where she made the remarks (a town with 15,000 illegal homes or more), costs per household would be in the region of 40,000 euros. Meanwhile, she has set up a Citizens Forum with a number of women’s groups (for some reason) to ‘establish a permanent dialogue between the Andalucian Department for Housing and Public Works and social groups’.

Later (June 20). The consejera Rosa Aguilar was in Albox today and met with members of AUAN and agreed to the association joining the 'Citizens Forum' from September.

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