(CNN) – Dozens of cities in Italy has sold abandoned dwellings for a song, sparking a new kind of gold rush as enthusiastic buyers from all over the world try to find bargains in picturesque remote villages.
The deals were seen as a win-win, with dying communities gaining a new influx of life and investment as dilapidated property came back to life and, more importantly, starting to contribute income.
But there are still losers.
Now the families of the original owners of several abandoned houses are starting to file their claims for this old stone structure, saying they should be contacted to find out about the sale.
Among those now questioning the potential selling of their family home is Josie Faccini of Niagara Falls, Canada.
Faccini’s grandmother, Consilia Scapillati, migrated to Canada in the 1950s, leaving behind a cute little stone house in the historic center of Castropignano in Italy’s southern Molise region that the family has visited regularly over the years.
After reading about Castropignano’s plans to divest his old housing stock, Faccini began to worry about “property grabs” and has spent months trying, remotely, to reaffirm his claim to the home that his nonna abandoned decades ago.
And he’s not the only one. Despite the local government’s efforts to contact the original owner’s family, others say they are also afraid of losing their ancestral home as they struggle to sue their claims due to distance, time and legal complications.
‘Angry and frustrated’
Josie Faccini said she was not informed of the sale of the house in Castropignano.
Courtesy of Josie Faccini
“I have heard about the sales plan and reach out in August,” said Faccini CNN Travel. “Then I saw an article that said the mayor had sent a notification overseas but no one in my family was told about this.”
Faccini said she has sent numerous emails and registered letters to Nicola Scapillati, the mayor of Castropignano, who has the same surname as her grandmother, but has not received a reply.
“Nothing,” he said. “I am very angry and frustrated. I want to see the city develop and help be a part of this, but please don’t steal our home from us.”
Faccini said she finally got a reply from the mayor after a painful eight month wait, but Scapillati told her she needed to provide the title deed and information to verify her claim.
This can be tricky. Asked by CNN In commenting on Faccini’s claims, Scapillati pointed out that over the years, the house could have moved to a new owner outside the family or to another heir or distant relative. Faccini has a cousin in Italy whom she has never met.
The sale or transfer of ownership is also not known informally in Italy, especially in rural locations, to avoid taxes, Scapillati said.
Castropignano does things differently compared to other places selling € 1 homes. The city has about 100 abandoned buildings, but the mayor says he wants to match interested parties with the right house for them.
He said he was moving along two parallel lines, reaching out to potential buyers and existing owners at the same time, step by step, to ensure demand meets supply.
After an interested buyer learned a detailed plan of what kind of house they wanted and why, the mayor said he tried to contact the original owner based on land registration data.
Fines and seizures
Josie’s grandmother is standing in front of her house in Castropginano.
Courtesy of Josie Faccini
After receiving thousands of emails from interested buyers, Scapillati says she identified the first stage of the house and sent about 20 letters to its original owners scattered around the world.
The mayor told CNN that he would confiscate the property and sell it to a new buyer if the original owners did not respond within a reasonable period of time detailing their intention to restore the building or hand it over to the authorities.
He said the property was dangerous and dilapidated.
Legally speaking, he was on fairly solid ground, according to one expert. Whoever owns property in Italy must take care of it so that his condition does not endanger anyone. Failure to do so can result in fines and seizures, even under extreme circumstances.
“Under Italian law, the owner or heir has an obligation to guarantee the maintenance of assets to prevent damage to third parties,” said Emiliano Russo, property attorney and assistant professor in real estate at Rome’s Luiss Business School.
“In the case of risk of damage, he may be subject to administrative sanctions from € 154 to € 929 ($ 186 to $ 1,122) and, in the case of actual damage, he may be subject to criminal arrest.”
Because this rule is intended to ensure public safety, the mayor can issue an order obliging owners to make repairs, Russo said.
He added local authorities could pursue their owners or heirs through the courts or use their own powers to recover maintenance costs or even confiscate property.
Mayor Castropignano said he had sent notice about projects for Italian diplomatic missions abroad. Josie Faccini said neither she nor anyone in her family had received the information published by the embassy in Canada.
The two sides are now trading arguments over what constitutes proper notification.
“I searched the Italian embassy in Canada but found no notification,” he said. “Most people from Castropignano migrate to Canada, we even have a club here, the Niagara Castropignano Club, which was started by the hundreds of immigrants who lived here.”
Confusion and Covid
Faccini’s younger sisters are pictured in front of their grandmother’s old house.
Courtesy of Josie Faccini
Faccini said he wanted to know what needed to be done to restore the house and was willing to pay all taxes and renovation costs. He said he sent nonna’s full name to the city hall and mayor and said he had now identified the property address with the help of relatives in Italy.
Faccini believes that taking over a property, even if abandoned, without properly telling family members about steps to reclaim it and let other families own it, is unacceptable.
“Until 10 years ago, I used to live in my nonna’s house in Castropignano, located on a hilly road after the gate at the town’s entrance,” Faccini said.
“One of my aunts in Italy used the house for a while, then she died but I don’t know what happened to the house, whose it is now.
“It has been abandoned for five years. I would personally fly over to ask but Covid made it impossible.”
Scapillati added that heirs of two other emigrant families in Canada and Argentina have also been in touch to find out the fate of their ancestral homes.
“They didn’t claim anything, just asked for information about family property in Castropignano which they remember owning decades ago but don’t know the exact location,” he said.
“One key element emerges – the possibility that over time emigrants abroad sell their homes privately to other owners without notifying local authorities. Therefore we have no concrete data, just piling up unpaid taxes that will never be paid by. anyone. “
Other € 1 bonanza cities face a similar problem.
Mussomeli in Sicily also received inquiries from people wishing to reclaim their family home.
Salvatore Catalano, Mussolemi Municipality
The town of Mussomeli in Sicily set up an agency to connect old and new buyers and has so far managed to sell hundreds of cheap homes, according to Deputy Mayor Toti Nigrelli.
He said at least one family from Argentina, where many local residents have migrated in recent decades, got in touch to inquire about and claim potential old family homes.
“We have a large community of people living in South America who are native to Mussomeli whose interest in their roots arises when news spreads overseas about our alluring housing scheme,” Nigrelli said.
“Some of them remember owning a home here and asking what to do to reclaim their ancestral home.”
There was also communication from homeowners wanting to give up their destroyed family property to free themselves from the burden.
“We are very happy to dump our aunt’s house, we just gave it to the city authorities,” said Antonietta Lipani, an Italian-Swiss resident in Geneva whose family migrated from Mussomeli.
“My father inherited it but we never left, it’s been empty for years. What’s the point of keeping it?”
Some cities, such as Carrega Ligure in Piedmont and Lecce nei Marsi in Abruzzo, have tried but failed to launch € 1 schemes with old owners proving too elusive, perhaps fearing contact with local authorities asking for around € 400 a year tax refunds, said Scapillati.
Fighting relatives can also be a problem. In Italy, every surviving heir owns a share of the property and for sale, all must agree and sign, otherwise the abandoned property remains frozen, even if it collapses to the ground, according to Michele Giannini, mayor of Fabbriche in Vergemoli, another city that has sell the house.
Yet in nearly all cities that have managed to sell € 1 worth of property to new owners, descendants of emigrants have contacted to restore lost ties and rediscover their roots.
Troina, in Sicily, has received inquiries from descendants of emigrants who want to return.
Courtesy of the Comune Troina
The mayors of Bivona and Troina in Sicily have received dozens of purchase requests from people whose ancestors migrated to France, Argentina and the United States, all looking for vacant homes in their picturesque ancestral villages.
“This project has awakened second and third generations of migrants abroad, sparking new interest in our community. In the past, many families fled in search of a better future. Now, their sons and grandchildren want to return to their hometowns to revive the atmosphere. rural areas “, said Mayor Bivona Milko Cinà.
Returning to Castropignano, Mayor Scapillati said he is pleased to work with Faccini to resolve the issue if the details can be verified. He didn’t think it had been sold.
“We don’t take any property, we don’t want to take the house of any family, quite the opposite,” he said. “We are delighted that our project has created enthusiasm and put Castropignano in the spotlight, attracting people who want to join forces to restore our beautiful community.”
Faccini said if he could make a claim to his family’s old home, he would like to return to Castropiagno and volunteer to help promote the city.
“It’s the only thing left of my mother, I want to keep it,” he said. “I want to go and live in this house, show it to my nephew who has never seen it. I want to work with the mayor to help Castropignano develop again.
“I will be the biggest advocate for people who want to buy a house there.”