My flamenco teacher, Luis Vargas, lives in an old house in an iconic street called Calle Merced, in Barrio Santiago, which is one of the flamenco quarters of Jerez de la Frontera. He was born just along the road in a building that used to be a maternity hospital and is now a school. He went to school with many of the flamenco great names and he himself comes from an illustrious line of flamenco gypsies.
I asked how old the house is and he replied probably several hundred years old and I suspect that it might even be more. The house is complicated and they have to enter through a part of the building that is owned by someone else. He said that it is a house of ‘vecinos’ and that all the buildings would have surrounded a lovely Andalucian patio. This part of the building abutting his has been let to fall apart, but Luis is proud that he has inherited this house and has papers which show his ownership. When he is not singing he has spent a lot of time renovating and maintaining his part of the property.
However the back of the property is another story all together. It is like a war zone, with walls falling down and a waste ground at the back. To one side of his house there are props since the other side has also been neglected. So what is the story?
Apparently a developer has gradually paid off all the vecinos in neighbouring properties and deliberately let them fall down so that he can build an apartment block at the back. However there is no access – the only access would be through the space that would be Luis’ house. So he has tried a few very nefarious ways to get Luis’ family to leave. The latest is that he has said to the Ayuntamiento that Luis’ house is a ruin. I don’t know what the definition in Spanish law is of a ruin. I suspect that it would probably apply to about 75% of houses in the historic districts of Jerez. The Spanish don’t seem to value old properties and besides many people just don’t have the finances to do what needs to be done to bring them up to standard. The houses that I have seen being renovated are being done by mainly Scandanavians in Jerez, and several by Scandanavian architects.
What this order means is that the family will be evicted and the property worth nothing. In order to fight this order they have consulted a lawyer and they say it will cost them 800 euros to do something about it. I can tell you that is a lot of money to a flamenco singer (and to a lot of people including me).
Now the house next door but one is about to be renovated and they are proposing to separate the roof of the house in the middle which effectively probably means that Luis’ house will fall down. My brother in law is a surveyor and although we can probably prove the house is not a ruin he can’t do anything about this since it depends upon Spanish law. I feel so angry and helpless.
After studying economic geography at University I very nearly trained as a Planning Officer in the UK and when I hear people complain about our UK planning regulations. I want to give this case study to show the regulations also protect us. In the UK, this developer and the people in the house adjoining what we call a ‘flying freehold’ would not be able to try to do what they want to do without making sure another person’s property is not damaged and ensuring that costs are shared. Besides which the frontage of the street is ‘preciosa’ and as I said ‘iconic’. In British planning law it would be protected and no one allowed to damage the beautiful line of houses fronting this street.
The latest part of this story is that Luis and his wife have been told that they need to replace the roof and that will cost 15,000 euros. So the story gets worse. How come they can’t sue this neighbour to make him at least share the costs of the roof?
So what do I do next to help Luis fight his campaign to retain his rightful legal ownership of this typical Spanish family dwelling? How do I prevent his family from being thrown out on the street? How do I learn enough about Spanish property law to be able to help? My Spanish isn’t good enough to be able to work in the technical language required, besides which when I get angry and emotional my Spanish just deserts me. It’s not surprising since all the cortical connections required to work in not my native language shut down when flooded with cortisol and adrenalin.
Meanwhile I have moved to an apartment quite close by. I joined in a demonstration recently that started in Plaza Mercado nearby and walked round the old town to bring attention to the precarious state of many of the houses in Barrio San Mateo and Barrio Santiago. I walk home past at least half a dozen really beautiful houses that are in sore need of renovation. How I would love to be able to instigate a programme of restoration and how I would love to renovate one of these houses myself and how I would love to be able to help Luis save his precious home. I have to find a way though I am not going to let this happen.
Crowd funding anyone?