British expats who bought homes in Spain and found themselves in the middle of an illegal home scam are closer to being able to own their properties legally.

In a landmark case, a judge in Almeria has awarded €135,000 damages to three British families who bought illegal homes a decade ago in Albox, which might open the door for similar suits around Spain.


He ruled that the home owners bought in ‘good faith’ and deserved compensation for living with the possibility of losing their home. He also awarded €7,800 to another British family, whose savings were trapped in a home that was half built before work was stopped.

Owning a home abroad is a dream for many expats, but in Spain when the housing market was booming, more than 250,000 homes were built illegally in Andalusia, an area popular with overseas buyers.

Homes judged to have been built illegally without property planning permission came under threat of demolition. Indeed, in some cases homes were torn down.

But two years ago the ruling junta approved a plan to enable homes to be declared legal, though the complexity of the planning mess made this a slow process. Recently, an additional 25,000 homes have been declared exempt from demolition.

But there has still been uncertainty about the fate of some homes, which meant the ‘owners’ could not rent or sell them. Last month prosecutors called for the demolition of 93 homes in Albox, but the local mayor said the homes are likely be saved by the new legislation.

‘In the meantime, this whole drama of illegal homes remains a terrible stain on the reputation of Andalusia as somewhere to invest, discouraging fresh money and ultimately impoverishing the local community,’ said Mark Stucklin of Spanish Property Insight.

‘People who bought in good faith and ended up with illegal homes through no fault of their own have been treated appallingly by the Spanish authorities,’ he added.

The judge’s new ruling in favour of the three home owners suggests the courts are ready to display more sympathy toward owners. With several similar cases pending, demolitions are growing unlikely, with the new ruling emphasizing that tearing down a house would do ‘more harm than good’.

It is also good news for expat home owners that the judge in the Albox awarded damages to the owners , instead ordering that the developers and architects are liable for the payments. If they can’t pay, the judge ordered the local town hall pick up the bill for failing to control the situation and lending ‘an appearance of legality’ to illegal building.

However, the developers and the town hall have the right to appeal, so it may be years before the owners receive any payment. Maura Hillen, president of local property rights campaign group AUAN, pointed out that this is the first time that victims who bought homes in good faith have been awarded damages.

It is an important step, according to their attorney, Gerardo Vázquez. ‘I think there is increasing social awareness of the travesty of demolishing the homes of people who bought in good faith, who would lose their savings and their home,’ he said.