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ENGLISH SPEAKING LAWYERS IN MALAGA (ANDALUCIA / COSTA DEL SOL) SPECIALIZED IN PROPERTY LAW & CONVEYANCING

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DAFO UPDATE: OBLIGATIONS, INSIDE REFORMS, MORTGAGES & RTA/VTAR RENTAL LICENSES

DAFO UPDATE: Obligation, interior renovation, mortgage & RTA/VTAR rental license.

In June 2017, we posted an extensive article on the legal situation and the legalisation of homes in non-urban land in Andalusia –DAFO/AFO–, outlining our opinion about positive and negative aspects of this legal precept. Almost a year and a half after this article, we would like to use this post to provide new information to owners and buyers of homes on non-urban land.

This information, which we believe may be useful, does not represent a fundamental change from what has already been stated, as there have been no legislative changes to the DAFO during this year and a half. This information, however, is based on our experience with different Councils in the province of Malaga and the approach they have been using for DAFO, as well as the questions we have seen among our clients.

Are Councils required to issue a DAFO/AFO?

Nowadays, we have found that a growing number of Councils, whenever there is any notification relating to a rural home, automatically open a file and start proceedings to start the DAFO process. This could be for example for the notification of:

  • Sale of a home
  • RTA (VTAR / Vivienda Rural) rental registration
  • Opening License Casa Rural / B&B
  • Registration of a property in the Land Registry
  • Applying for an urban certificate (for example for a purchase)
  • Change of account holder of the water supply

In other words, a growing number of Councils have been taking advantage of any information or request related to a property located on non-urban land to demand owners to start the DAFO process and legalise the rural homes built in the municipality. That said, if you wish to rent your property seasonally and you intend to register your home in the RTA -Andalusian Tourism Registry-, or you would like to register a pool or storage in the Property Registry, we recommend that you first analyse whether your home could obtain a DAFO.

As we have explained on many occasions, the DAFO is a procedure created to regularise homes on non-urban land that have been built illegally –most of them–, over which legal liability can no longer be claimed due to the passage of time. When the Council issues the first notification, it does not really require the owner directly to start the DAFO process. This first notification is about “telling” the owner to submit evidence whether the home complies with the legal requirements to be eligible for DAFO. This means that, if it does not comply with these, it is very likely that this is because there is some illegal situation in the building. This issue may still be subject to penalties from the Council and, in this case, the Council must open a sanctioning procedure against this unlawful situation, with the legal consequences you can imagine.

It is for these reasons that it is very important that, before you do anything or apply for anything at the Council that may entail the opening of a file against the property, you confirm that the home is eligible for DAFO and whether there is any building or work that may give rise to penalty proceedings. In this case, it is best to do nothing until enough time has passed. This in normal countryside is 6 years. Likewise, if you are thinking of buying a rural property, you must know that, when the Public Deed of Sale is executed and submitted to the Property Registry, the Council will receive a notification of this transfer and may later require you to legalise the home through a DAFO process.

Is it possible to carry out internal refurbishments and renewal works?

In accordance with Decree 2/2012, which governs DAFO, in this type of buildings “... only repair and preservation works required by the strict maintenance of the safety, habitability and sanitation of the building may be authorised”. Having said this, it is obvious that the works that may be carried out in properties of this type are limited and must be very clearly justified, always thinking about preservation and maintenance and never on improvements or additions, as renewal works as such are not possible. Since all rules are subject to interpretation, it is possible for some Councils to authorise certain types of refurbishment works that others do not. For this reason it is best to inquire at the Council to see if you could get planning permission before the work begins.

However, having said this, the desired internal refurbishments must always be justified from a point of view of habitability and necessity in terms of health and safety in the building, such as:

  • the opening of windows,
  • replacement of the roof,
  • replacement of floors,
  • substitution of sanitation equipment,
  • extension of the surface of a room that may be considered too small (without increasing building surface), etc.

The important thing is to evidence the need to carry out such works. Most likely, for the council to issue planning permission, it will be necessary to have completed or applied for the DAFO. Along with the technical project from an architect for the DAFO, the need to carry out such works should be justified due to the safety, habitability or sanitation of the home, applying for the corresponding licence. It will be very difficult to obtain permission without having completed the DAFO process.

If the home you intend to purchase already has a DAFO certificate, it is possible to apply for planning permission for the refurbishment works mentioned above but it is necessary to take into account the date the DAFO was obtained. It would not be very logical to apply for permission to refurbish a home for which the DAFO was approved only a few months prior, as the DAFO is supposed to certify that the home was in perfect conditions of habitability, without problems in terms of its safety or sanitation. Needless to say, if there has actually been some sort of unforeseen breakdown or accident in the property, permission may be requested for such repairs.

Can properties with a DAFO/AFO be mortgaged?

This question arises because a Spanish Royal Decree from 2009, regulating the mortgage market, contains an article that specifies that properties not meeting the legal requirements may not be mortgaged. Despite the existence of this rule, we must state that rural properties or homes on non-urban land have been, are and will continue to be able to obtain mortgages. There may be some banking institutions that do not provide mortgages for rural properties but there are many that do, which is logical as, in most cases, these properties are consolidated and are not subject to penalties, for which reason there is legal certainty over these.

We have submitted a query/test to one of the largest appraisers on the national market for mortgage valuations. In our query, we sent the land registry information – nota simple – of a rustic property with a DAFO certificate registered in the Property Registry and the response from the appraiser was unequivocal: homes with a DAFO are being appraised on the mortgage market. It should be taken into account that the appraisal value of a property for mortgages issues on non-urban land –a rural property– may be 20% to 40% lower than the purchase price, as the mortgage is given over the valuation price of the property. Nevertheless, a mortgage can be secured for these.

Can I have a RTA / VTAR rental licence for my rural property?

It is possible to rent and register a home on non-urban land in the Andalusian Tourism Registry -RTA- for short-term rentals (less than 2 months). This home would usually be registered as a tourist home for rural accommodation -VTAR-. As clarification, it should be said that it is possible to register rural accommodation or B&B as a country lodge or “casa rural” but this is designed for owners who are engaging in economic activities and operating such rental as a business, with at least one of them being required to register before the Treasury, pay VAT and register for Social Security.
The registration of a rural property in the RTA is subject to two approaches, depending on whether we talk to the Regional Government of Andalusia or the Council.

a. Regional Government of Andalusia

A few days ago, we had a talk with an inspector of the Regional Government in Malaga, who is in charge of inspecting homes of this type. Among other things, he told us that the Licence for First Occupation –Licencia de Primera Ocupación or LPO– is necessary to register homes on non-urban land in the RTA. As some people know, very few rural homes have an LPO. However, it is possible to obtain “legalisation” through the DAFO. The Inspectorate of Malaga have told us that a DAFO certificate would not be deemed to replace the Licence for Initial Occupation. In my legal opinion, I think that the Inspectorate are wrong and I clearly deem it arguable that, in the absence of a Licence for First Occupation, if a property has a DAFO certificate, this document should be accepted. Among other things, the DAFO certificate is the council recognition of the habitability of the property on non-urban land. In fact, Councils interpret this as a licence for the occupation of the property.

b. Councils

The Regional Government of Andalusia will notify the Town Hall when a home is registered in the RTA and this will lead some Councils to automatically call upon the owner to legalise the home through DAFO. It is also possible that a Council form will need to be completed before the home can be rented. Ultimately, at the municipal level, it is necessary to notify that you intend to rent your home and, if you lack an LPO, you will probably have to obtain a DAFO so that you can get this document, which recognises the habitability and occupation of the dwelling.

What should I do if I want to buy a rural home?

You can select the one you like best, without fears or concerns. Take the time you need and, once you have made a choice, you can start the buying process and negotiation. At the start of the process, do not hesitate to hire a lawyer specialising on this matter, who is familiar with this aspect of the law. As we have stated on many occasions, the cost of a lawyer is very small in comparison to all the money you will spend to buy a property in Spain. Saving money by failing to hire a lawyer during the process to buy your home in Spain may be one of the biggest mistakes you ever make. I know you may think what I want to do is to sell you my services –and this is true, this is why I work. But if you think about it carefully, you will understand the importance of having sound legal advice while buying a property in a country different from yours.

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo (C&D Solicitors / Lawyers, Torrox Málaga)

HOME BUYERS ACTING IN GOOD FAITH, MORE PROTECTION IN THE CRIMINAL FIELD

Spanish home buyers acting in good faith

Spanish home buyers acting in good faith

Yesterday Thursday 26 March, the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament ratified the amendment to article 319 of the Spanish Penal Code, approved by the Senate last 12 March. A paragraph has been added to section 3, which reads:  “In any event, the Judges or Courts of Law may issue a reasoned order to demolish the works and restore the physical reality altered at the expense of the principal thereof, without prejudice to the compensations due to third parties in good faith, and, assessing the circumstances and after hearing the competent government body, shall temporarily subject the demolition to the constitution of guarantees that ensure their payment. In any case, the seizure of the earnings from the offence shall be available, regardless of the transformations that these may have undergone”.

This new regulation will be into force next 1st July.

Until now, in proceedings regarding an Offence against Town and Country Planning, the judgment ordered the demolition of what had been built illegally and compensation was set by way of civil liability for the developer, in favour of buyers acting in good faith. The problem is that, in most of these cases, collecting said compensation was very complicated since the developer was either insolvent or had disappeared. However, enforcement of the demolition was not stopped, for which reason we could find ourselves before an unfortunate scenario where a buyer acting in good faith and recognised in a judgment could have his home demolished without being effectively compensated.

From now on, in criminal proceedings for Offences against Town and Country Planning, the judge may stop the demolition of the home until due compensation to the third-party acting in good faith is guaranteed.

From the literal wording of the amendment introduced, it seems that the judge will be the one who, after assessing the specific situation in each case, will stop said demolition, for which reason I understand that it will be an essential requirement to prove that the buyer is really a third party acting in good faith.

Likewise, it seems interesting that, in assessing whether to stop the demolition, it is required for the competent Government Body, which I take to be the City Hall, to be heard in the proceedings. I suppose that, in these cases, the City Hall can provide relevant details leading to stopping the demolition. Also, since the City Hall is the one responsible for executing the demolition, it may argue on the suitability of stopping it until it can ensure compensation for the third party acting in good faith.

Lastly, this amendment refers to stopping the demolition temporarily, i.e., a specific period of time is not established but, in any case, it should not perpetuate over time. However, the concept of “temporarily” is very wide and it may be interpreted as sufficient time to guarantee compensation to buyers acting in good faith.

I can say, with full knowledge, that this amendment of the Penal Code has been possible mainly thanks to the work of two associations in Andalusia that have been working on protecting buyers acting in good faith for several years: SOHA and AUAN, especially noting the great work done by Gerardo Vázquez, a colleague of mine, attorney and legal adviser at AUAN. The efforts of these organisations and their mobilisation have made this amendment possible.

The aforementioned organisations, along with many others that have been created, are justified by the great problem faced in Andalusia, which has 300,000 homes built in non-developable land (NDL). On the Andalusian coast, due to foreign residential tourism, many buyers are foreigners and this has led these owners, facing the legal problems with these homes, to move to defend their interests, to strengthen and to tell authorities about the existing situation.

The main problem, at least in Andalusia, has been the complete inactivity and inefficiency of Urban Planning in Andalusia, which has led to a failure in regulating non-developable land in Andalusia and to the existence of many homes built on non-developable land.

Regulations with very fixed and strict criteria governing construction on non-developable land were approved. However, Autonomic and Local Governments have completely neglected to provide the necessary oversight to enforce these regulations.

From the beginning of the years of the housing bubble, the competent government bodies have shown no predisposition to initiate and solve disciplinary procedures against offenders, with all the legal consequences that this entails, such as demolishing what has been illegally built. The governing party in City Hall should have assumed the “feared” political price that these unpopular measures may have entailed.

Most of these buildings have everything: registered deed, pay IBI (Property Tax), are registered in the Property Register, have electricity and water, and have paid autonomic taxes such as ITP (Tax on Asset Transfer) and AJD (Stamp Duty).

Many of the properties have changed owners, meaning that the person responsible for construction is no longer the owner of the home. When these properties enter legal proceedings, third parties acting in good faith appear, affected by this situation that the Local and Autonomic Governments, with full knowledge, have allowed due to their complete inaction in the field of Urban Planning.

The regulations provided in the Urban Planning Law of Andalusia (LOUA) to govern the very strict use of non-developable land were based on environmental protection and on maintaining the rural value of a large portion of the Andalusian territory so as to preserve this environment and its values.

However, its lack of application due to a lack of real and effective control of what was being done on non-developable land has given rise to the failure of regulations on the use of non-developable land provided in the LOUA.

In reality, this has resulted in large rural areas becoming full of unregulated buildings, achieving the opposite effect, as the lack of protection of the rural environment is clear in these cases.

In practice, a total lack of protection of rural land has occurred in some areas under greater urban pressure, where, without controls or any type of criteria regarding what was being built at the architectural level, construction has been allowed, of palaces, warehouses, terraced houses, one-storey homes, towers and everything in between. There has also been no control of the necessary infrastructure or facilities for these homes to be used: discharge of sewage, illegal wells to obtain water, etc. Furthermore, many of these homes did not pay local building taxes, as the majority were not eligible to obtain a licence under the LOUA.

However, as we explained in a previous post, it should be noted that, in some cases, the licenses for segregation, building and initial occupancy were indeed granted for some of these homes. The fact that the Government is responsible in these cases is more than obvious and the damages suffered by owners, who purchased the homes in good faith, are completely reprehensible.

This situation of deregulation of non-developable land has an undesirable effect on citizens, as there is a feeling that there are citizens who ignore the law and go unpunished and that there are others who are required to comply with it.

If the urban planning disciplinary proceedings had been started quickly and efficiently at the beginning of that frenzied period of real estate development on non-developable land, the message that citizens would have received would have been very clear and many buildings would not have been built. There would still be homes on non-developable land but the magnitude of the problem would be quite different.

Faced with this situation, the legal response to solve this problem should be consistent with the reality that exists and that has been tolerated by the Government itself for so many years. This is why the necessary legislative reforms in this area must be tackled rigorously and without propaganda messages, avoiding a focus on the debate on “amnesty for everyone” or “offenders must pay” because the situation is much more complex.

In the administrative field, the majority of these homes should be regularised as, in many cases, penalties for using land illegally would have expired and many of the developers-builders are not the current owners.

In the future, there should be a debate regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of Urban Planning under current regulations, as well as regarding whether the regulation of non-developable land in the LOUA is adequate for the purpose it intends to fulfil.

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyer)

Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

 

 

 

FUTURE REFORM IN ANDALUSIA FOR THE OWNERS OF HOMES CONSTRUCTED ON NON-DEVELOPABLE LAND

Andalucian houses constructed non-develople land

Andalucian houses constructed on non-develople land

Three weeks ago the Junta de Andalucia (Andalusian Regional Government) announced a reform of the Urban Development Law for Andalusia (LOUA) which aims to provide further legal security for owners of homes that are built on non-developable land (rustic land).

With the current LOUA regulations, for those buildings constructed on rustic land in Andalusia and which are within a zoning plot, the prescription period of six years that the administration has to "attack" these constructions on rustic land does not apply. In other words, no time limit is established, therefore the government leaves open the possibility to begin administrative procedures against said plot and the constructions that are on it, when it deems convenient, even if it has been over six years since the home was built.

The above has the main effect that a building on rustic land, built over six years ago on a property that has not been segregated, cannot be penalised or "attacked" by the government, whereas if the construction is part of a segregation/plot division it could be penalised in spite of being built over six years ago, and demolition of the homes built on this plot could be ruled, as established in article 49 of the Regulations on Urban Development Discipline. Regarding this article, I point out that in spite of it and in my opinion, I do not think that it is feasible to carry out any demolition under this precept due to several legal reasons.

The problem with current regulations since the LOUA came into effect in 2003 is that no serious monitoring or inspection policy has been implemented by the Junta de Andalucia and the Town Halls on rustic land. This has led to the proliferation of thousands of new homes and plot divisions throughout Andalusia, especially during the times of the real estate boom, and more so on the Costa del Sol, where this speculation reached unsustainable proportions.

In spite of the fact that it was feasible to control these constructions, it was not done and this led to the buildings entering the legal level, with many owners purchasing in good faith with all the appearances of legality. This has shown that current regulations in Andalusia on rustic land, and specifically on plot zoning, are pointless, because no one has made sure that they were enforced, making them inefficient at best.

Now the intention is to modify the LOUA and provide the possibility for isolated constructions located on plots of rustic land to regularise their situation through the figure of assimilating it as unregulated, that was introduced by the Decree of 2012. This will be so provided that the period of 6 years has elapsed without the government beginning any penalisation procedures against these buildings, therefore to these purposes the legal situation is considered as equal to those homes that are not located on a zoning plot.

It will take a period of 5 or 6 months for this reform to be approved, and it will be approved by parliamentary proceedings, therefore changes will be included during its approval.

I understand that this initiative by the Junta de Andalucia is a first step towards solving this problem. We all would have preferred for this not to have happened and that rustic land would never have been part of town planning speculation, but this problem started many years ago and the issue is clear; what to do with thousands of homes that cannot be demolished now?

Most of these homes are inhabited and they are still being bought and sold between private persons, therefore it is necessary to regularise them so that third parties acting in good faith have legal security as owners of these properties. Likewise, it is reasonable that those that were built without a building permit, which is most of them, should assume a cost for the regularization procedures and they should contribute the same as any citizen who wishes to build a house, and this bearing in mind that the acknowledgement by AFO is not the cure-all either. From an ecological and environmental standpoint, the legalisation procedure must guarantee that these homes do not cause any further damage to the area where they are located, and that their waste water is completely purified by autonomous installations, because as long as they are fully illegal, and cannot be "attacked" by the government, each owner will do what they see fit and damage to the environment will be higher.

In short, given the current situation and bearing in mind the problem that has been created due to the inactivity and lack of control by the public administrations, from a legal, financial and environmental standpoint, we must establish a regularization procedure for these homes. If not, if we continue with the current situation, it would be a great mistake and it would only continue to aggravate the problem as the years go by.

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyer)

Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

RECENT CONTROVERSIAL DEMOLITION OF TWO PROPERTIES

Controvercial demolition properties Andalucia

Controvercial demolition properties Andalucia

Last Monday October 14th, the Regional Andalusia Government Junta de Andalucia carried out the demolition of two houses which  were built without construction permit on non-developable land in the rural area of Las Terreras, in the municipality of Las Canteras, Almeria.

In this case, the developer did not have construction permits to build both properties. This is a different situation from that explained in our blog post in March, but there are also involved third parties in good faith, who bought the aforementioned properties to the developer/seller. The demolition of these properties means the infringement of a fundamental property right according to the interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has demanded that:

-          People affected by court or administrative proceedings which may imply the loss of their assets shall have the effective and real opportunity to defend their situation.

-          Property loss due to general interest—for example, the compliance of planning legality over ownership of assets—shall be previously compensated to the owner.

Therefore, upon consideration of this European case law, it is not sufficient that in these two cases the judgment has assessed civil liability and the seller-developer is sentenced to compensate owners who bought these properties, but this compensation should be made effective prior to demolitions to avoid the risk that the seller fails to pay or is not able to pay and, as a result of this, third parties in good faith are not compensated. It should be noted that subsidiary liability of public administrations is not observed, as no construction permit was granted.

In order to guarantee the payment of compensations, appropriate actions should be taken prior to execute demolitions in the same proceedings for the enforcement of judgments. If this were possible, this situation should be determined as a reason to stop the judgment enforcement until compensations are paid to the affected owners. Obviously, each case should be analysed in order to determine whether the owner knew about the absence of construction permits and even though he was aware of the risk involved, he bought the property. In these cases, protection for these owners should be different.

Regarding certain information compiled by different means, there is a chronological perspective to be pointed out in respect of these two demolitions, which reveal the inefficiency of inspection and penalty procedures in regards of town-planning regulations, as well as the belligerent approach of public administrations participating:

-          In 2004, the Andalusian Regional Government initiated a proceeding against the developer and he was fined because of the earthmovings in this area. Then, he was obliged to restore it to its original state. Obviously, the developer failed to comply with this order to restore it to its former state. In addition, the Town Council or Andalusia Regional Government should have acted in this moment, as well as they have done now, when carrying out the demolitions.

-          In 2007, the Andalusia Regional Government officially ordered to the Town Council the demolition of the properties, as they have been built on non-developable land without construction permits. From 2004 to 2007, 3 years have elapsed. During this period of time the 4 properties were built and no competent public administrations did paralyze the works before they were completed. As a result of this, the completed houses were entered into legal transactions and then new owners arised. Why were construction works not paralyzed within these years?

-          Once that the 4 properties were completed, the Town Council authorized water and electricity supply for them; this illegal authorization granted by the Town Council implied that these homes were appropriate to be occupied, as these supplies were essential for their sales.

-          In 2012, The Andalusia Regional Government seemed to request the Town Council to execute the demolitions.

-          In October 2013, the demolition of two properties was carried out by the Andalusia Regional Government, because the Town Council did not do so. The other two properties are also pending to be demolished.

Nine years have elapsed since the construction activities without permits are known until their demolitions were indeed executed. During this period of time, third parties in good faith have appeared and been affected by this situation. Have public administrations really done their utmost? Could have they acted earlier and with greater accuracy since 2004?

It would be a rather difficult task to think that the Andalusia Regional Government and Town Councils are not liable for a large number of homes built without permits on non-developable land in Andalusia—liability becomes obvious for those properties built with construction permits—since they had aerial images of each area, cadastral information and documents from the Payments Offices for transfer tax collection, which may have allowed them to protect non-developable land and enforce Andalusia town planning Act (LOUA). But they did not want to do so. Accordingly, as town planning duties have not been complied in respect of inspection and penalty procedures, the liability of Andalusia Regional Government and Town Council is joint and shared.

It is also worth mentioning the existence of certain arbitrariness on the part of public administrations when judgments were enforced, since older proceedings are still pending to be enforced and no actions are being taken on them.

Foreign residential tourism is a key factor for local economies in many areas; different national newspapers have been looked up and all of them echoed the new demolitions, which is a very harmful publicizing. They stressed the absence of economic compensations before demolitions were carried out, rather than demolitions itself.

It is not a question of implementing a general amnesty for all irregular acts executed on non-developable land without permits, since this may lead to a negative message for people who meet regulations. However, the fundamental property right should not be further infringed in conformance with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case law and property right should be protected in Spain as a fundamental right. In addition a legal  system which protects third parties in good faith should be provided in order to ensure legal certainty; inspection and penalty procedures should be carried out and should not go on forever due to the lack of interest of public administrations, so that their effectiveness may paralyze these type of constructions before they are entered into legal transactions; common sense and realism should be imposed and Regional Governments should be consistent with what has been accepted in these years, due to their failure to act or interminable penalty and enforcement procedures.

It seems understandable that town-planning legality will be now strictly enforced and hopefully it will be watched over. However, solutions should be provided from a logic and legal perspective for all previous cases.

 

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

 

 

RELEVANT RULING FOR HOMEBUYERS OF NON-COMPLETED PROPERTIES WITHOUT BANK GUARANTEES

Ruling for non-completed Spanish properties without bank guarantees

Ruling for non-completed Spanish properties without bank guarantees

In the last few years, it has become quite common the significant number of homebuyers who have purchased off-plan properties and paid large sums of money on account for their future homes, however, the developer has never completed nor handed them over. Consequently, the advanced money has been lost in many cases, because the developer may have gone bankrupt and lost all assets to refund these amounts to them.

Spanish Government passed in 1968 the Law 57/1968 dated 27th of July on the receipt of sums paid in advance prior to the construction and sale of homes. This was aimed at stopping several cases of homebuyers who lost their money paid for properties which never were built.

Spanish Law 57/1968 is still in force and solicitors, who are specialised in this issue, know the regulations for homebuyers’ protection in respect of sums paid in advance to developers for off-plan or under construction properties prior to their completion. However, the most relevant point at this moment is the judgment argumentation set out for the court proceedings where 46 homebuyers without bank guarantees securing advanced payments, made a legal claim jointly and severally to the bank and the developer demanding the total amounts paid, because the construction works were never completed. The judgment was pronounced by a court of first instance of Albacete on the 08/06/2012 and was confirmed by the Provincial Court on the 11th of February of this year.

The aforementioned judgment ordered the bank to refund all amounts of money paid by the homebuyers, considering that it was jointly and severally liable together with the developer, pursuant to the interpretation of Articles 1 and 2 of the abovementioned Law of 1968, Article 4 of the Spanish Ministerial Order of 1968 and the First Additional Provision of the Law 38/1999 on building regulations.

Although the bank was not a party on the sale agreement and did not either issue bank guarantees for homebuyers’ payments on account, the main line of argument of this judgment to consider the bank to be jointly and severally liable is that this bank knew about these payments in the developer’s account and was aware that these amounts were paid for the purchase of homes in a property development. As a result of that, the bank did not comply with the obligations provided by Law 57/1968 and committed a banking malpractice, pursuant to the interpretation of Article 1.2 of this Law, as the developer should have been required to open a special account where depositing its funds apart from any other amounts aimed at the construction of the properties. In addition, the bank should have not permitted these deposits in ordinary accounts, and particularly when this bank was the only financial entity financing the development and profited from this real estate business.

This judgment entails a court action to recover the money for those homebuyers without bank guarantee securing the amounts paid on account to developers, because, if appropriate, they could bring an action for joint and several liability against the bank where the developer’s loan was granted, where the payments were deposited and where the developer operated. Thus, homebuyers will have better chances to recover the sums paid, considering that there are already many judgments where developers has been condemned to pay, but court orders cannot be enforced because of their insolvency, while banks are always solvent.

 

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

BUILDING PERMIT INVALIDITY AND CONSEQUENCES FOR THIRD PARTIES IN GOOD FAITH

Invalid Andalucian building permit/licence

Invalid Andalucian building permit/licence

One of the legal problems affecting some owners of properties on non-developable land has originated in the last ten years with the invalidity of building permits, which protected these constructions on non-developable land. This invalidity has been obtained in most of the cases by means of the corresponding contentious-administrative court proceedings.

First of all, the invalidity of a building permit would imply the demolition of what has been built under this permission on specially protected non-developable land; in case of common non-developable lands (without special protection), this invalidity may imply the demolition if more than four years has not elapsed between the end of the construction and the beginning of contentious-administrative proceedings or the invalidity procedure ex-officio by the Town Council. After March 2012 six years should have elapsed.

From a legal point of view, the main problem lies in the third party in good faith, included in Article 34 of Spanish Mortgage Law, who purchases a property to the former owner who had a building permit to build, and later on, he finds out that this permit has been challenged by contentious-administrative jurisdictional courts and found null and void by final judgment before the sale execution; or he finds out that there is a contentious-administrative proceedings going on when he bought the property and has not been finished yet. Therefore, sooner or later a judgment may be received stating that the permit is invalid.

The third party in good faith is not able to know about these facts because until the 1st of July 2011 it is not compulsory to register in the Land Registry the invalidity of the building permit ordered by final judgment or resolution ex-officio by the Town Council. This modification was incorporated by the Spanish Royal Decree-Law 8/2011 approval modifying some articles of Spanish Land Law. For this reason, this third party purchaser is not able to know about this situation, becausethe Land Registry has not recorded in most of the cases the decisions taken on building permits which may affect their property rights.

The abovementioned Royal Decree-Law approval has set the compulsory registration in the Land Registry of the legal condition of the property, so that the Public Administration bodies will be responsible if this notification is not served to the Land Registry when contentious-administrative proceedings are affecting the building permit granted to the property. Articles 51 and 53 of Spanish Land Law (Royal Decree-Law 2/2008 of 20th of June) set forth this compulsory registration, so that the third party in good faith may be able to know about the legal situation of the property by looking up the Land Registry and then decide about buying or not this property knowingly and intelligently.

However, regarding the abovementioned information, a problem arises when considering the facts previous to the 1st of July 2011—whether the proceedings are finished at this date or they are not resolved yet, because the abovementioned compulsory registration in the Land Registry was not in force as to this date as former regulations were applied.

In my opinion, the main problem of Spanish legislation in this field and its most frequent interpretation by Spanish case law, lies in the fact that the third party in good faith accessing the Land Registry is not protected by the Registry certification and the legal certainty that the Land Registry must provide, prevailing the planning legality support over the registry certification. We understand that is not abiding to law, because the third party in good faith, legal owner and unaware of the legal situation concerning the building permit, shall not be subject to the negligence of Public Administration.  In the interest of legal certainty, the rights of the third party in good faith should prevail over the planning law enforcement.

Apart from the abovementioned situation of the third party in good faith, the core problem lies in the fact that the property right in Spain does not enjoy a special protection. It is also worth mentioning that Spain is subject to comply with the Rome Convention, which considers the property right to be a fundamental right with a special protection. Concerning its interpretation of property right, The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) itself has demanded the following:

1) Those affected by administrative or court proceedings which may imply the loss of their assets shall have an effective and real opportunity to defend their situation.

2) Any deprivation of a property to his owner due to the general interest—as the enforcement of planning law, requires a previous compensation for this deprivation. In fact, a recent resolution of the ECHR of the 31st of January 2013 by cautionary measure has cancelled a demolition in Cañada Real (Madrid) until the Town Council provides an alternative accommodation to the family occupying the property and the outlined underlying matter is resolved. In this case, we refer to the demolition of a property in a shanty-town located in specially protected land and without building permit.

Therefore, the Spanish legal system should reconsider certain substantive decisions providing the property right with a fundamental nature and protecting it. As a result of this, the protection of the third party in good faith should be one of the cornerstones of this protection, because this third party must not bear the damage of the unlawful conduct of Public Administration when granting these building permits, both in these cases where the invalidity proceedings were not entered in the Land Registry and were not available and those cases where proceedings are initiated against the building permit once the third party in good faith is the new owner.

In addition, these owners, who built their properties with the corresponding building permits granted by Town Councils, should not be deprived of their property right by means of the property demolition without compensation to cover their loss, as this demolition is originated by the negligence of the Town Council and not by the owner.

Spain should ensure compliance with its obligations as an EU Member State, as the property right concept of the Rome Convention and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case-law is obvious in this regard. Therefore, we understand that this Convention is being infringed by Spain, apart from the fact that the current situation contribute to legal uncertainty.

 

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

 

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