Sunday, February 7, 2010

Now everyone can buy property safely in Marbella


It's the nightmare scenario - you buy a house or apartment in Spain through a legitimate estate agent and hire a lawyer to do all the checks, but down the line you are faced with a demolition order. Your dream home is demolished without compensation because it was illegally built even though you appeared to have done everything possible to make sure it was legal. This has happened to a few people and thousands of other Spanish property buyers have been threatened with this outcome causing untold amounts of stress and worry. How can this happen?
It's a complicated tale but essentially if the local Town Hall has corrupt officials (many do) and they are prepared to give the go ahead to build on land where they shouldn't, it may appear that a development is legal only for the regional government to overrule the local decision and declare the build illegal at a later date. They often press for demolition even though the property owners are innocent and have no redress against the developer who has gone bankrupt or the officials who are in jail.
Is it possible to protect yourself from illegal build scandals like this? Yes, but you need a good lawyer who is prepared to go the extra yard to check whether a development is legal. Just seeing that the development was approved by the Town Hall is not enough. Did the Town Hall have the right to approve the development? To find this out you have to go to the area's land use plan called the PGOU (Plan General de Ordenacion Urbanistica) which sets out perhaps every 10 years (the duration of the plans varies) how the municipality's land can be used - areas that can be built on or industrialised and areas that must be left green.
Up until now Marbella has been a cesspit of problems of these kind due to super-corrupt politicians including the notorious Jesus Gil whose PGOU was never even agreed by the regional government in Seville and left up to 18.000 properties technically illegal. Finally after years of haggling a new PGOU Marbella was agreed at the end of January this year. This retrospectively legalises most of the illegal builds but leaves the status of a few hundred up in the air.
The significance from a future property buyer's point of view is that now we have a firm point of reference against which to test the legality of a developer. Good Spanish property lawyers should not need to be told to check back to the PGOU if any doubt whatsoever exists over the legality of a development but forewarned is forearmed, if you are buying in Marbella be sure to remember the four letters "PGOU" and ask your lawyer about them.

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