The European Commission will quiz the Spanish government over serious legal problems faced by thousands of British citizens who own property in Spain, after pressure from Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion.
The West Midlands region Euro MP wrote to the European Commission after the Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No (AUAN), an association representing British nationals with property in the country, highlighted a huge number of cases where asserting legal rights to title in the Spanish courts has proved impossible.
Despite a European Parliament resolution in 2009 calling on Spain to sort out contradictory legislation, the AUAN reports that four years on 'nothing has changed.'
Problems include properties being demolished by regional government even though they were built with planning permission from a local council, with little or no compensation being paid despite years of legal action. There are also many reports of dishonest property developers not being held to account by the legal system.
AUAN claims that hundreds of thousands of properties, including 300,000 in Andalucia alone, remain trapped in a legal limbo due to title disputes, often preventing owners from installing electricity and water as a result.
Responding to AUAN's open letter to MEPs, Phil Bennion wrote to Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights & Citizenship asking what action the Commission has taken since the adoption of the resolution by the European Parliament over 3 years ago.
Phil Bennion said: "This resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of MEPs from all parties, who recognised the seriousness of these complaints.
"A basic principle of the founding treaties of the European Union is equality before the law for all EU citizens and a consistent application of legal principles in all member states so that people can trade freely and own property.
"Appropriate action must be taken to protect EU consumers as well as pressure placed on the European Commission to enforce change if a member state is dragging its feet."
In her response, Commissioner Viviane Reding stresses that the EU's direct legal competence regarding real estate property ownership in a member state is limited. However, she adds:
"I can inform you that the Commission has contacted the Spanish authorities to enquire as to the actions taken at national level to address the problems of many property buyers who failed to obtain their title deeds and ensure appropriate protection of EU consumers. Once the reply of the Spanish authorities has been received, the European Commission will assess it and act as appropriate."
Phil Bennion added: "I am pleased that the Commission has requested the Spanish government formally to account what efforts have been or are being made to deal with these serious concerns. I will continue to take a close interest and will press for further Commission action if necessary.
"It seems plain that Spain needs to ensure the courts have the power to act decisively. The limbo being suffered by thousands of people, many of them pensioners, who have spent their hard-earned savings on a property they cannot legally use or sell is totally unacceptable."
A representative from AUAN said "We are very grateful to Phil Bennion MEP for making the effort to follow up on our letter. Many cases are languishing in the Spanish legal system, but we welcome the Commission's action and we await the response of the Spanish government with interest".
Notes to Editor: The resolution passed in 2009:
Whilst the resolution condemned the use of retroactive legislation used by the Spanish Government to reclaim land in breach of right to own property defined in the European Court of Human Rights, it also called for the Commission to make more information available to people looking to buy property abroad as well as calling for thorough investigation into abuses of power by local Government in Spain.
Liberal Democrat MEPs have raised many issues in the European Parliament surrounding property in Spain and have worked hard to resolve problems faced by expatriates involved in cross-border EU property sales.
In recent months Phil Bennion MEP has also written to the Spanish Ambassador in London, a Court in Estepona and Commissioner Reding in attempts to resolve matters for constituents.
Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No (AUAN) is an association representing hundreds of British nationals who spent their life savings on a property in Spain only to fall victim of corruption, poorly enforced and contradictory planning regulations and property rights abuses.