Over the past few years Spain has developed an appallingly bad name for the safety of owning property in Spain. 'Land Grab' has become a phrase on everyone's lips and has struck fear into the hearts of many potential buyers - and not a few owners of Spanish property currently living here. It has been the subject of newspaper columns, nationally and internationally, and has been investigated in numerous television programmes.
For the Spanish, 'Land Grab' has been a publicity disaster of epic proportions and one that has done tremendous harm. And yet, it has rarely been rebutted effectively by the Spanish government, whilst much of what has been written about it has rarely done the subject justice.
Without doubt, there have been appalling abuses within Spain, where land has been 'grabbed' from Spanish property owners, so that it could be developed - often for fabulous profit. This has occurred in some prime coastal areas, where 'developers' have been able to obtain agricultural land extremely cheaply. Often helped by self-interested and corrupt local officials, the land 'grabbed' has then been re-designated as building land, allowing it to be developed into housing estates or golf courses. Meanwhile, the existing owners of properties on the 'grabbed' land have had to contribute massive sums towards infrastructure costs (roads, mains water, electricty etc.), whilst often losing a chunk of their own land.
As a potential buyer of a property in Spain, this is unnerving in the extreme! Indeed, it brings into question the very thought of buying property safely in the country.
However, time and again, when 'Land Grab' has been publicised, it is obvious that many of the Spanish property owners affected had bought unknowingly on Rustico land and (with amazing frequency) without the benefit of advice from a competent, independent lawyer. To some extent, they have been the author of their own misfortunes.
In fact, it is safe to buy property in Spain - but only certain types. And that is the 'rub'.
Spain is not like the UK and has existing property that varies from completely legal and safe to legal but subject to potential liabilities and property that is completely illegal. In the UK, by comparison, property is either legal - or demolished as soon as it is found to be illegal. There are no grey areas. In Spain, there are - and as a buyer it is imperative that you buy a fully legal property or know that you are buying a property in Spain that is not (or that may be subject to potential liabilities in the future).