A great number of foreign citizens in their retirement years have invested their life savings in purchasing their dream home in the Andalusian Countryside.
Suddenly they have received an unpleasant order to initiate proceedings to reestablish the original legal planning order on their property that was violated, which in the majority of cases ends up in demolition of the property.
In some cases we have read the only documentation people have received is the notice of demolition.
The Andalusian Law on Land Use (LOUA) has on grounds of sustainability restricted the construction of residential property in rural land when its need can be justified for agricultural, forestry or livestock production purposes.
This makes it impossible to build a residential property in the countryside which is designated as rural land.
The LOUA has been in force since 2003 and this should have been taken into account by all operators involved such as the Council, developers, builders, purchasers or rather their solicitors.
For various reasons some of the constructions are listed with a license to build a tool shed or to refurbish an existing property.
What happens is builders/construction companies or even private individuals abuse these licences and build proper houses.
Most of these properties have been sold to foreign purchasers who did not probably receive proper advice or their legal advisors relied on the existence of a license which obviously was inadequate and rather was part of a known trick to achieve the illegal construction.
Now the owners of these properties face proceedings with the aim to pull down their properties.
These proceedings may have been started by the Junta de Andalucía which upon failure of the Council to do so must exercise the power to inspect, suspend and restore the original planning licence.
The system has failed these buyers and now the owners affected, in most cases, bona fide purchasers, are suffering its consequences.
These properties in accordance with the LOUA should not have been built. What should you do if you receive a property demolition order?
First of all, do not panic.
You should immediately contact a lawyer specialising in planning , licences and rural law.
Each case has its own story and the owner affected may be served notice at the outset of the proceedings or at a later stage, some unfortunately when the bulldozer is warming up.
Please note that in specially protected rural land there is no statute of limitation and therefore the authorities can always initiate proceedings to restore the juridical order.
In all cases, the order received can be appealed and therefore your lawyer can demand that the law on administrative proceedings is respected, especially when the order received is restrictive of the citizens rights and therefore these should be properly and legally founded.
We would look to suspend the order until an appeal can be made and a new judgement made.
Finally, if the house cannot be legalized, the only alternative that the owner will have is to convince the authorities to include the property as residential property in the countryside by a revision of the Town Plan.
If the property has to be finally pulled down, providing the owner can prove that they were a bona fide purchaser and the house counted with a proper license from the Council and therefore he has been misled by the appearance of legality of the Council license.
They can claim damages to the latter for the malpractice of the administration. They can also claim the resolution of the purchase contract from the vendor and claim the refund of the purchase price plus damages should he bought the property already built.
In this scenario owners should be prepared for the legal, political and media battle and they will experience.
BUT if at the end of the day, they can save their homes, they would have been rewarded for the effort put into it.
If they do not achieve this at least they will rest reassured that they did whatever was in their hands to try save their homes.
Please note the information provided in this article is of general knowledge only and is not to be construed or intended as substitute for professional legal advice.
Written by Rafael Berdaguer Abogados