The Prosecutor's Office, against the 'boom' of prefabricated houses: defends that there is no legal vacuum and that they need a license

The Prosecutor's Office, against the 'boom' of prefabricated houses: defends that there is no legal vacuum and that they need a license

Placing a prefabricated house on land without a planning license – be it an orchard, a plot in the countryside or in the mountains – can lead to prison sentences. That is the notice that the Prosecutor's Office has given to companies that sell these homes, as well as to people who want to buy them. The Public Ministry points out that there is no "legal vacuum" in terms of permits to place them, as some companies claim, and argues that the regulations are clear: in the eyes of Justice, they are houses like those made of brick and cement.

Antonio Vercher, head of the Environment and Urban Development Unit of the State Attorney General's Office, has sent a decree to the rest of the delegated prosecutors in which he urges them to investigate some practices related to the so-called 'mobile homes', such as locating these constructions in areas that do not have the necessary licenses to build with the excuse of being transitory or mobile, some even without water or electricity connections precisely to try to avoid the courts. The Sala prosecutor compiles different sentences that point in the same direction: any house, whether prefabricated or not, needs permits. The brief states that not even the temporary nature referred to by some companies is relevant. That is to say, it does not matter if the house is destined to live temporarily or not or if it is going to be displaced. "A building would be any work or construction intended to house people, either to serve as a permanent or temporary dwelling or for other purposes," says the text, which also stresses that "all housing structures require a license."

The problem goes further when it comes to protected land. In 2017, the Supreme Court confirmed sentences of one and a half years in prison for a group of people who placed houses of this type in the Guadarrama river basin, an area protected by the Natura 2000 Network. The sentence was finally one year and imprisonment for a crime against land use planning for placing constructions that are "absolutely prohibited" in a park with an "ecological value of undoubted constancy", in such a way that they "urbanized" and "denatured" the land, according to the sentence.

Juan Manuel López Rubio, a lawyer for Ecologists in Action, recounts similar cases that have been going on for years, although he highlights an increase from the coronavirus pandemic. The lawyer explains that before they had it more complicated when appearing in the cases because they had to prove that it was a house with a "vocation for permanence", with which he positively values ​​the prosecutor's letter: "Now it is clear what the position of the ministry is at the national level. On the one hand, it facilitates the work in the courts, and what is more important, it transmits [las directrices] to those who sell houses and say that they can be legalized, as well as to the owners". For his part, the owner of a Valencian company dedicated to this business knows that placing this type of housing "in a rustic plot of land like a vegetable garden it is not legal, what happens is that people buy, place and chimpún”. The businessman assures that there is a "legal scale", but that if the land does not have the permits, it is not legal: "But [los propietarios] they do it, as if it were a piece of furniture from Ikea”, he adds.

Urban anthropologist José Mansilla explains that the phenomenon can be compared to another of the 1970s and 1980s, when on the outskirts of cities "certain groups of houses escaped the regulations normally controlled by the city councils themselves." These new neighborhoods required the efforts of the administrations to provide basic services such as water or garbage collection, and that "can only be done through the controversial decision to recognize these new urban centers." "That the uncontrolled growth of a city is not allowed is not because someone has wanted it, it is because it follows certain political and technical lines," says Mansilla. There are many examples of sentences for crimes against spatial planning related to mobile homes and they are distributed throughout the territory; the lawyer López Rubio remembers two: one in Guadix and another in Pedrezuela, in Madrid. In both cases, the sentences included imprisonment, fines, disqualification and the obligation to restore the land to its original state.

The owner of a wooden house company in Jaén is also aware of the problems that these practices can cause. As in the case of the Valencia company, it has noticed an increase in demand in recent years and repeats the supposed "legal vacuum", although it recommends that the town councils be consulted beforehand since "they usually have the last word": " They don't bother some, and yes to others, but they do anyway”, he admits. The manager of the mobile home company in Valencia explains that there are people who prefer to take risks and place their homes on non-building land: "When I go 180 on the highway I know I'm not doing something legal, but I'm going."

The Public Ministry cites another ruling from 2016 that states that this type of practice could be a "new attempt to circumvent the law" in order to obtain a second residence, even a first, "at low cost on undeveloped land." As López Rubio points out, the pandemic has made some people seek to have another residence outside the city, but he warns that in addition to the environmental impact that it can have in certain spaces, "the moment you put up a house it has a vocation for attraction " and this ends up "making a population center" on rustic land. However, Mansilla adds that it is not only second homes, sometimes people who acquire and place houses without permission do so out of necessity and because they cannot afford another type of home.

This growing business model, Vercher's text specifies, has "large proportions and huge profits." Regarding the role of owners and sellers, the environmental lawyer acknowledges that the companies have "less attributable responsibility" because "they have no obligation to follow how the house is installed", although "the truth is that they are the ones who move it many times. Therefore, they would have to know what the conditions of the ground are where they are going to deposit the house. Not because the client says that they put it next to a stream, they can do it, "he adds.

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