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Squatters in our own homes

The shiny new front-door key we held in our hands, opened the door to a property situated close to the golfer’s paradise of San Roque in southern Spain. My husband and I had bought a beautiful two-storey townhouse set high up on a hill, with a panoramic view of the three-hundred-year-old town. Little did we know that our place in the sun would turn into a nightmare.

The completion process was a straightforward affair, but we had no inkling that an astonishing seven months later, we would still be struggling for the legal right to connect to the local water and electricity board.

Our development consists of twenty-two impressive whitewashed townhouses built on a cul-de-sac-type street. Sadly, almost a year after completion, half of these houses lie empty as owners are forced to give in to the bureaucracy of Spanish legislation, which denies them the right to utility connections.

The problem stems from a single purchaser’s legal claims against the developers over issues he appeared to have with his own property. According to reports, the town hall refuses to release the Habitation Licence or Certificate of Occupation until the dispute is resolved. This certificate is the key to connecting to the local services. Having had this licence of occupation withheld for reasons unsatisfactorily explained, residents have since been “squatting” in their own homes!

Due to pressure and unscrupulous common practices, most residents signed the final completion contracts before the certificate was issued. According to lawyers and developers it would be forthcoming “soon”. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, some of the residents who had sold previous properties had no choice but to move in soon after.

Earlier this year, many lifted up the pavements and connected the necessary tubes themselves, in a sad and desperate attempt to have water flowing into their houses. So far the water board have turned a blind eye to the complex situation. They know the entire street does not have a meter running, but residents live in a daily torment of fear of the water being suddenly cut off.

Temporary electricity supplied by the developers is in such short supply, that many residents have been forced to abandon the use of any new appliances such as ovens or heating systems until the situation is resolved. The extension cables plugged into a temporary box in the street are burning from over-usage, and household fires or electric shocks are a constant worry. As each household struggles to share the minimal supply, confrontations and bitter feelings amongst the residents continue to permeate the atmosphere.

As the local mayor continues to withhold the certificate, families, including one young couple with three small children, are living in fear of facing yet another winter under such adverse conditions.

Residents are banding together in an effort to gather support and press the responsible parties for a speedy conclusion.

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