British expats’ property horror in Spain over illegal homes: ‘Big shadow hanging over us’

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Some 200 mostly British pensioners in Murcia, Spain, are battling to get the necessary legal protections granted for their homes. The retirees, who live in the hamlet of Gea y Truyols, bought their dream homes in the sun in good faith, in some cases more than 20 years ago. However, their properties were built without planning permission, meaning they are unable to access legitimate water and electricity supplies.

This is despite the expats claiming that Murcia Town Hall and the property developer assured them that their homes would be completed above board.

The fallout has left those affected battling with the local authorities for years to get some kind of legal protection for their houses.

Linda House, 72, from Essex, who has represented the group at meetings with local officials, told Express.co.uk that the planning debacle has cast a “big shadow” over her and her neighbours’ lives.

She said: “I hate to run Spain down; we’ve been here a long time and my husband and I had the most wonderful time.

“It’s a lovely country to live in, mainly because of the weather of course, but it’s a nice country to live in. They’re very family-oriented. It’s lovely.

“But there’s just this big shadow hanging over a lot of us so much of the time, what’s going to happen with our properties?”

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Linda is among those in the area who do not have access to a supply of fresh drinking water.

Her property and many others nearby are only hooked up to a supply of agricultural water intended for farming, not drinking or cooking.

Linda and her late husband Vic moved into their home in 2003, the year the property was constructed.

The retiree leads a local pressure group called AUN Murcia (Abusos Urbanísticos No – Murcia) to try and deal with their situation.

The organisation was inspired and helped by a similar association in the neighbouring Spanish region of Andalucia, where a recent law change granted thousands of expats a reprieve from having their homes bulldozed if they were built without planning permission.

Unfortunately, no such law exists in Murcia.

Linda said: “They had assured us that this whole area where the land was, although planning permission hadn’t yet been granted, there wouldn’t be a problem with it because the whole area – a vast area – is zoned to be urbanised.

“That doesn’t mean it’s one big urbanisation, but it means it’s gone from rustic farmland and it will go to ‘urbanisable’ land. They wouldn’t be demolishing properties here.”

The expat’s neighbour, Keith Willis, 71, has also been affected by his home not having planning permission.

The retired Heathrow Airport worker from Windsor also relies on agricultural water and does not have a proper electricity supply.

He told Express.co.uk: “We’ve got no utilities. I have a house in the middle of a plot of land. 

For the last five years I’ve had solar electricity. Prior to that we had no electricity.

“Unless we have a week of bad weather, we run quite happily on solar power.

“You’ve got to be careful what you use, obviously, you wouldn’t have an electric oven on or something high-powered.”

Local Spanish lawyer, Gerardo Vázquez, who is aware of the expats’ situation, summarised the predicament the group find themselves in.

He told Express.co.uk: “To get access to utilities you need what’s called a First Occupational License, which is a document given by the Administration to say the house has been built with planning permission, what has been built is in accordance with the planning permission, it’s got the services.

“Therefore, it can be used and you can connect to services like electricity and water but those houses don’t seem to have that.”

He added: “Spanish planning law has been historically very complicated, and the gun has been jumped on a number of occasions and it has led to these problems.

“So, they’ve moved in without the paperwork being ready, basically.”

The expats claim they have not yet had a substantial update from the Town Hall, but they do have another meeting this month.

Linda praised the assistance the group has received from the British Consulate Alicante, saying the UK Government’s representatives have been helpful.

Mr Vázquez claimed that local Spanish officials would have been aware of the expats’ situation.

He said: “The Town Hall would know what was going on or ordinarily in these situations and the developer obviously would know in detail.

“There’s a lot of people that have either allowed this to happen or are to blame.

“I wouldn’t blame the Brits though, because they don’t know the system.

“They come here in good faith. They buy properties and they end up in this nightmare.”

Murcia Town Hall did not respond to requests for comment.

A Foreign Office spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “We closely engage with the Spanish Government and regional governments on matters relating to UK Nationals’ rights.

“We encourage any UK National in need of consular assistance to get in touch with their nearest Embassy / Consulate or call the 24/7 phone line for support.”

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