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Spanish authorities get tough on illegal properties in Andalusia

A team of 36 inspectors are to undertake an examination of illegal houses in the Axarquia region, the Vejer area of the Costa de la Luz, Medina Azahara in Cordoba, Valle de Almanzora, Freilas and Quesada.

It will inlcude looking at the type of land built on, the size of the property and whether or not the building is being used to make a profit or is a family home.

So far 57 people have been arrested over an on-going investigation into the construction of 30,000 illegal homes in Chiclana, one of the worst blackspots for illegal building in the area. They are builders, valuers and estate agents, and investigators are now examining evidence that various bank workers may also be involved.

The arrests revolve around a series of false documents purporting to show properties were older than they were in reality. The certificates were then used to obtain mortgages from the banks that may have been in collusion.

It is estimated that between 2005 and 2007 there was practically no town planning discipline by the council. The current investigation has seen 18 people charged with fraud, falsifying documents and breaking land laws.

In particular the claims centre around the area of Canteruelas Viejas, where in 2005 an aerial photo shows that there was only one building standing.

However in 2007, hundreds of new home owners insisted that their homes should be legalised as they had been standing for at least five years.

The police investigation is also now looking to see how closely the banks may have been involved.

Some 200 Britons who unwittingly bought illegal houses have formed an organisation to fight for their properties to be legalised. 'Like many people we went through the proper channels to buy our property. We used an estate agent, a lawyer and a notary – even the bank we got our mortgage from looked over the paperwork and everyone said it was okay,' said Colin Wood, chairman of the Chiclana Foreign Residents Association.

The town hall is currently trying to legalise around 15,000 of the illegal properties.