Furniture and looks do not make a structure less illegal

Just because a boathouse in Armier has been renovated to look like a stylish studio apartment and subsequently put up for sale with what looks like a pittance compared to the price for actual studio apartments, does not mean that it would be a good idea. As lawyer Dr Ian Spiteri Bailey pointed out, “It’s not the furniture and how they look what makes a structure/building legal or illegal.”
The structures, which are still seemingly occupied, have been a bone of contention for authorities for well over a decade. In 2003, the Government had granted boathouse owners a 65-year-long right to enjoy public land as long as they take care of it, also known as emphyteusis. This was however overturned by the Courts in a final 2013 Civil Court judgement with Judge Anthony Ellul saying that, “Transfer of land on shores for the building of caravans can only be by title of rent for less than 10 years.”
It was then pointed out by Armier Developments Ltd – “The boathouse owners association in Armier and vicinities” according to their Facebook page – who filed an appeal and then eventually abandoned it in February 2017, that they had an agreement with the Government. The Judge then explained that the legal mistakes of one entity do not justify and legitimise illegal constructions.
Boathouses for sale
Following a Facebook post advertising one such boathouse one sale for €110,000 doing the rounds on the social media platform, contacted the lawyer to find out exactly where the law lies on buying structures that have previously been deemed illegal by the Courts.
When asked about the advertisements for the boathouses, Dr Bailey pointed out that “It’s not the furniture and how they look what makes a structure/building legal or illegal. It’s the necessary permits from the competent authorities.” He added that they could be “the most luxurious studio flats, because if there are no permits, then they are illegal structures.”
That being said, it is also possible that there are permits for boathouses which are then converted into studio apartments. In this case, “as long as no permits have been obtained to change the use of the structures from boathouses to studio flats,” said Dr Spiteri Bailey, “then they will remain illegal.”
Cost vs Value
A quick search brought up a handful of vacancies even on reputable real estate websites which valued the boathouses between €80,000 and upwards of €250,000. Although the price tags could be the result of what the market dictates, in terms of land scarcity or the actual value of the land itself, it might still just be a waste of money.
Dr Spiteri Bailey explained that there were decisions by the Court of Appeals which have valued illegal buildings and structures at nothing. “So a person might purchase an illegal boathouse/studio flat,” said the lawyer, “only to discover, in the future, that he has given away that sum of money.” Dr Spiteri Bailey also concluded by pointing out that, in his opinion, this is “sheer madness!”

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