Archive for AFO
With this article, I am detracting from the usual ones of a more legal nature, aimed at foreigners, resident or non-resident, who own a home in Malaga. In this post, I attempt to analyse the situation of wastewater purification in terms of the most significant tourist municipalities in Costa del Sol, as well as the financial and environmental consequences that lack of purification entails for municipalities like Nerja and Coín. I also focus on properties on rural land and the purification required for homes wishing to obtain a DAFO.
Introduction wastewater purification
With environmental sustainability or the environmental impact of our lifestyles being such an important issue in our times, I would like to speak my mind about the great problem of faecal water purification in the province of Malaga in general, even through it is sadly extensible to most regions in Spain, in population centres both large and small. However, Malaga, as a top tourist destination and due to its population density, especially along the coastline, should have an infrastructure that mitigates the environmental impact caused by all of us who live on the shore.
Many of our clients, both resident and non-resident, who are thinking about purchasing a home in Andalusia and that we provide advice to, are attracted by the Mediterranean Sea that bathes our shores but on which we indiscriminately dump millions of litres of unpurified wastewater. A recent article in La Opinión de Málaga on 5 January stated that Malaga dumps 123 million cubic metres of wastewater into the sea every year, a real atrocity.
National problem, million-euro fine
On 15 February, El País national newspaper published an article informing that, until that date, Spain had paid about 32.70 million euros in fines due to not complying with the wastewater treatment directive in municipalities with over 15,000 inhabitants. This has been the highest fine paid by Spain to the EU in history.
This breach of the directive led to a conviction from the European Court of Justice and the resulting fine being imposed by the European Commission. This fine continues to grow for as long as those 17 municipalities fail to treat their wastewater, an obligation that came into force in 2001, which means almost 19 years have passed since that directive was enacted.
Nerja, beautiful beaches with faecal waters
One of the many municipalities that have been fined and do not have a sewage treatment plant is Nerja. It is striking that this municipality, which such beauty and such great beaches and cliffs, in 2020, is still dumping the sewage it generates directly into the ocean, through a collector located 1,200 metres from the coast.
Nerja has spent over 20 years on the project for its sewage treatment plant and even though it seems that this year may finally mark the end of the works, according to an article in Diario Sur on 6 January (fingers crossed), this does not detract from the sloppiness and lack of interest of the local and regional government have displayed about this project.
The situation is so obvious from an environmental standpoint that, following several complaints, the prosecutor's office brought judicial proceedings against senior officials of the Nerja City Council for the illegal dumping of this untreated wastewater. One of the toxicology reports certified that all samples taken from five beaches in Nerja contained faecal organisms according to their tests.
Construction of the Nerja treatment plant was declared to be of public interest by the Government in 1996 but, 23 years later, it has not yet been completed. If you visited Nerja and the surrounding areas in 1996, you could see the large number of works that did get started and completed because there were many years with large capital movements but the faecal water purification plant was not so lucky. Other municipalities on the eastern coast, such as Torrox, Vélez Málaga and Rincón de la Victoria, do have a sewage treatment plant in operation.
Mouth of the Guadalhorce, a natural site with a “faecal” river
Another area that also presents a high degree of pollution due to illegal dumping is the mouth of the Guadalhorce river in the city of Malaga. This enclave is the last unspoiled beach in the city of Malaga and is home to a very significant ecosystem of flora and fauna, with a network of trails to move through it. However, in this river, municipalities as large as Alhaurín el Grande and Coín dump their untreated faecal waters, which also led to a fine being paid by the government of Spain.
The city of Malaga has reinvented itself as a multicultural European city, currently highly appreciated by foreign tourists due to its many urban development projects, mostly in real estate. But Malaga is unable to commit to a project in the mouth of the Guadalhorce, which could affect this unique space –as it is the last unspoiled one– to preserve its environmental value.
It is non-profit associations that are reforesting and trying to preserve this space altruistically, as our firm was able to witness during the conference we held with some of them last November.
The municipality of Coín, a peculiar case
For the town of Coín to be able to connect to the treatment plant in the lower Guadalhorce, it is necessary to build the 3 kilometres of collectors that were destroyed by the torrential rains in autumn 2018 but the Andalusia Council, along with the contracting company, continue to fight to decide who will pay for these repairs. Coín is also immersed in legal proceedings due to its failure to treat its wastewater. While the administrations argue, this collector continues broken and the faecal water from Coín is dumped directly into the Guadalhorce river.
Isolated homes and their regularisation through DAFO, a bad focus of faecal waters
Even though compared to large population centres, the impact of these homes is lower, it should be noted that there are many isolated homes existing in Malaga. In La Axarquía, municipalities such as Alcaucín, Viñuela, Competa, Periana and Torrox have thousands of rural homes, as well as towns in the Guadalhorce valley, such as Coín, Alhaurín el Grande and Alhaurín de la Torre. Likewise, municipalities such as Mijas or Ronda also have many houses on non-urban land.
Among the positive aspects of the DAFO these homes are required to have an individual and autonomous treatment system. It should be noted that this procedure is important for foreigners who buy and sell homes in the province.
What is the problem?
I see that one of the negative aspects is the requirement from the Andalusia Council for properties subject to DAFO to have a watertight septic tank, forbidding septic tanks with a biological filter. This guideline is a serious mistake and its effect is contrary to what is intended, which is to prevent these homes from polluting the land on which they are located.
Properties with a watertight tank habitually require (monthly or more frequently, depending on their use) a tanker to visit the property and empty the contents of the tank, which are then transferred to an authorised waste facility.
What is the alternative?
Allowing the use of septic tanks with a biological filter as a treatment system, as it would not be necessary to empty the tank and water would come out clean and purified. It may be necessary to request authorisation for the discharge point of this clean, filtered water, which could even be used for irrigation but, with this treatment system, a company would only need to clean the tanks once a year, which represents significant savings for owners.
What is happening?
The problem that we find with watertight septic tanks is the economic cost of each emptying, which leads many homeowners to resort to other illegal methods, to avoid inconveniences and economic costs. In many cases, they choose to install a watertight septic tank and, once the technician certifies it, a small hole is drilled at the bottom, through which faecal water is poured into groundwater, thereby dispending with the need to have a truck empty it and making it very difficult for this to be sanctioned.
It is appalling that, in some cities, it has been accepted or assumed that owners will not empty their watertight septic tanks and will drill a small hole in them. I would even dare to say that owners are given such a “solution” to prevent the inconvenience of emptying, as the DAFO only requires having a technician certify the installation of the watertight septic tank and, if a hole is drilled later, no one will notice.
However, with thousands of homes in the countryside, thinking that a truck would need to go empty the septic tank in each of them on a frequent basis, requires being naive or means that the Andalusia Council cares little about these discharges (I lean more towards the latter). I am also not very sure of where these trucks discharge the faecal waters they do collect.
Do not pollute the environment if you process the DAFO for your property
To prevent the situation above, which is absolutely filthy, in some of the DAFO we have processed, we have found this problem and, to prevent faecal waters from being discharged directly into the ground, we have advised owners that, once the watertight tank is installed and certified to process the DAFO, they install one with a biological filter next to it. This way, at least, the water they dump will be clean and not pollute the ground, while the owner will avoid all the financial cost and disruption entailed by emptying the tank periodically.
At least, with the second option, despite not being accepted officially by the Junta of Andalusian and many municipalities, faecal discharge is prevented, which is the main goal when it comes to the environment.
As you probably understand, this issue goes a long way but I believe that, with these few brushstrokes, you can see the general lack of environmental awareness in the administration as well as among many citizens. This is the sad reality.
Tourism in Malaga and the entire Mediterranean area is also not viewed with a perspective for the future, as we live in the short term and do not care for essential things for investors and tourists to continue to come to Malaga, as well as foreigners wishing to purchase a home to enjoy a high quality of life or just spend their holidays in Span.
Meanwhile, those of us who reside and live here most of the time are unaware of the large amount of pollution we generate and the damage we cause to the sea, rivers and streams (which are increasingly polluted). I do not see many complaints or movements among citizens protesting this situation.
Some of the damage is already irreparable but there is some that can be fixed.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)
New information on the DAFO certificate: 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.
Can I carry out internal refurbishments and renewal works through DAFO?
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.
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, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)
Lately, in the purchase of rural homes, one of the most important points discussed between buyers and sellers is the procedure “Asimilado Fuera de Ordenación”, –DAFO or SAFO–. What it is, what its consequences are, who does it, who assumes the cost, etc.
Basic rules to buy in the countryside in Andalusia
Before talking about this procedure, and based on my experience with clients looking for a home in the countryside, it is necessary to mention that, in non-development land in Andalusia –rural land–, it is not possible:
- To build homes, unless the intention is to engage in agricultural or livestock-farming activities in a professional capacity on the parcel.
- Existing buildings may not be expanded and/or remodelled, both inside and outside. People have to purchase what is already built and no changes are legally allowed.
- It is permitted to build with the intention to operate rural accommodation or a bed & breakfast, but it is necessary to carry out a preliminary operational project – called in Proyecto de Actuación -, that the Government of Andalusia must approve. This procedure can take over 6 months and it is difficult to obtain a positive response from the Regional Government.
It is necessary to take into account that most homes currently sold in the Andalusian countryside are illegal or irregular, i.e. if the authorities had done their work, they should not have allowed construction and, therefore, they should not exist.
The case is that, for most buildings, it is not possible to start any penalty procedures against buildings built without a licence or with an illegal licence on non-development land due to the time elapsed.
This means that legal responsibility is time-barred since over six years have elapsed since the end of construction. When we refer to non-development land with any special protection, the period of six years does not apply.
What buildings can and cannot be constructed in the countryside
In non-development land, a construction licence cannot be granted to remodel or rebuild. For instance, in the event of a fire when the home would be completely destroyed, it´s not allowed be rebuilt.
It is possible to grant a licence for small repairs or modifications necessary for the habitability and safety of the home, such as, for instance, replacing part of the roof or a wall that has been damaged or has collapsed.
Why was DAFO/SAFO created?
Because of the above, the Government of Andalusia approved regulations in 2012 with the idea to regularise, not legalise, thousands of homes built on non-development land –rural land–, in breach of urban-planning regulations. Since 2012, City Councils have started to create internal regulations to govern this procedure.
Speaking colloquially, with the resolution of Assimilated out of Ordination – Asimilado Fuera de Ordenación -, the goal is to have a record with a specific date of what has been built on that property –both inside and outside each building–, how many years have elapsed since construction and to certify that the home can continue to exist without penalties in the future, even though it will not be possible to expand it and/or remodel it or to build new structures.
This is not a legalisation because the home is left outside urban regulations –as it was built illegally– but it is a regularisation as the City Council itself certifies this legal situation and confirms in writing that it will not be possible for this home to be subject to a penalty due to the time elapsed.
The legal situation of a home in non-development land does not change after receiving the resolution of DAFO/SAFO from City Hall, i.e. the home will continue to be illegal as it was built on land where construction is not allowed but, since the time limit established by law to issue a penalty for this infringement has elapsed, this procedure against the owner cannot be started due to this situation. With or without a DAFO certificate, the legal situation remains the same.
In this procedure, it is necessary to have a project by an architect, to pay a fee on the value of the building on the date it was built, which may range from 2.5% to 4.5% depending on the City Council where the property is located, and the City Council will also verify the water and electricity supply as well as the need for a septic tank so that the home can comply with regulations.
It will actually be the architect paid by the owner who will inform, in his or her project, everything necessary for the home to be eligible for a DAFO certificate. Once the project has been submitted, the architect from the City Council will visit the property to inspect it and verify whether it complies with the requirements for a DAFO certificate.
Once this procedure is completed, which may take between 4 and 6 months, the City Council will issue a resolution certifying Assimilated out of Ordination – Asimilado Fuera de Ordenación -, from Regulation for that home and all structures built on the plot.
Is DAFO mandatory for the sale of a home?
To buy or sell a property, holding a DAFO/SAFO certificate is not a legal requirement. That being said: is obtaining a DAFO/SAFO certificate for a property good or bad?
In favour of the DAFO certificate, we can mention that buyers will have the certainty that what has been built already cannot be subject to a penalty and/or demolished because it is accredited in writing that legal responsibility is time-barred, with the certificate from the City Council granting the DAFO certificate. Likewise, it will provide certainty that the City Council will not require you to obtain a DAFO/SAFO certificate for the home in the future, as the procedure was already completed at the time of purchase.
It should be taken into account that, currently, nearly no City Council offers any information in writing regarding a property built on non-development land unless it holds a DAFO certificate or processes it.
This means that, if you go to get something in writing, they tell you that you certainly can but you first need to process the DAFO certificate for your home. This means that, if you do not want to obtain a DAFO certificate for any reason, it will be very difficult for buyers or their lawyers to obtain information in writing about the property.
The downside of having the DAFO is that, if there are any structures or remodelling –inside or outside– completed within the last six years or if the land on which the property is located is subject to any type of protection (and it can´t be proven that the buildings are old enough), applying for this procedure can only cause problems to the owner as the City Council will be required to initiate penalty procedures.
Likewise, if the new owner is thinking about remodelling after buying the home –ignoring the advice of a good lawyer–, the City Council will already be perfectly aware of what had been built before and it will be easier for them to prove that the structure has been remodelled or some variation has taken place.
It is also necessary to take into account that it may be possible for a property to obtain a DAFO certificate in 2016 and remodelling or expansion of that home to take place in 2017. What I mean with this is that complete certainty in this sense can never be achieved.
Current status of the DAFO certificate
It is true that the processing of this certificate is starting to become common at City Councils because they have also realised that it´s tax payment is an important source of income.
Many City Councils have an unwritten rule to start an application automatically when they receive or someone requests any type of information and/or documentation about a property on rural land, so we can say the owner would be obliged to make the DAFO.
In the situation mentioned above, many buyers want to prevent having to pay for the cost of the procedure themselves, which has resulted in an increasing number of buyers requiring the seller to process it and pay for it.
It is also true that, in some sale transactions where a DAFO certificate is not desired, a reduction in the sale price is usually agreed with the seller and the new owner will decide whether to apply for it in the future.
Is possible to get a mortgage in a property with DAFO?
Another issue that some clients ask about, is whether it is possible to grant a mortgage for a property with a DAFO certificate.
On this matter, the reality of the property market goes beyond the legal limitations in force since 2009 as, even though it is not theoretically possible to grant a mortgage for buildings or structures exempt from regulations, the reality is that there are banking entities that do grant mortgages for properties out of ordination or assimilated out of ordination, i.e. rural properties.
In my opinion, if there is money to be made, banks will not stop granting mortgages for properties of this type -with or without DAFO- regardless of what the Decree of 2009 says. Obviously, mortgages approved for these properties usually offer a lower loan amount and not all banks offer mortgages on rural land.
Buying and selling homes in rural land
When buying and selling homes in non-development land, for them to be able to be included in the property market, with or without a DAFO certificate, there are no limitations or restrictions. This means that most of these properties are registered in the Property Registry and in the Cadastre and have already been sold or bought on different occasions even though few yet hold a DAFO certificate.
Currently, there continues to be an important portfolio of potential buyers interested in properties in the countryside.
The important thing, when someone is looking to buy a property on rural land, is for buyers to know what they are buying, be aware of the legal limitations of properties on rural land, and receive specific legal information about the property, with or without a DAFO certificate. This will enable them to make a decision with full awareness of the legal status of the property.
A lawyer to buy a property?
Lastly, it's not that we're trying to promote our services –well, maybe a little–, but in the purchase of a home, especially for homes like these, having a lawyer is never a bad idea as his or her fee will cost very little in comparison to the purchase price and can save you from many headaches or costly problems in the future.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)
On 6 August 2016, the amendment of article 183.3 of the Urban Planning Law of Andalusia (LOUA) came into force.
The main objective of this amendment was to introduce a statute of limitations for subdivisions in non-developable land that contain buildings. Since 2003, the Administration was able initiate the administrative proceedings for the grouping of these plots divided illegally at any time, which entailed an order to demolish anything built illegally on such lands. There was no time limit, i.e. the legal responsibility never expired.
What this amendment has done is introduce a statute of limitations of six years for such subdivisions, provided that they contain buildings over six years old. This statute of limitations introduced for buildings constructed in non-developable land, results in the legal responsibility expiring after six years without the administration initiating proceedings against such subdivision.
It should be made clear that subdividing rural land means the segregation or division of a plot of land into several more plots, usually for the purpose of selling these plots independently and building there. These subdivisions are illegal unless they comply with the smallest unit for crops, which, in dry lands, is usually between 20,000 and 25,000 square metres. The general idea is to limit plots in rural land from being divided to form new independent properties as much as possible.
This is not a minor issue as, both before and after the passage of the LOUA in 2003, thousands of illegal subdivisions of rural land that did not comply with the smallest unit for crops took place in Andalusia. This situation was widespread until 2009, when the economic crisis put an end to frantic speculation in the property market.
The existence of thousands of such subdivisions led to the sale of many properties originating from illegal subdivisions, which were then transferred to other buyers, whom were also transferred the legal “problem” represented by the possibility of the Administration initiating procedures against them.
This was a situation that created a high level of legal uncertainty, as the offence of dividing such land illegally never expired. The sale of these plots led to the appearance of third parties acting in good faith.
In practice, the Administration in general and City Councils in particular did not have –and do not have– any interesting in pursuing proceedings against these subdivisions to re-establish legality in urban planning. In fact, the enforcement of the resolutions of these proceedings, by grouping all segregated plots into a single property in the Land Registry and in the cadastre, with the demolition of anything built illegally on such plots, seems a complicated task, not to say an impossible one.
In addition to this, the fact that there was no statute of limitations caused a situation of comparative tort, as the offence of having built on non-developable land, on a plot that did not come from a subdivision, would expire after six years. However, if the building was located on a plot divided illegally, the building could be “attacked” with no temporal limit as the offence of subdivision did not expire, i.e. despite the building being over six years old.
I think this amendment is sensible, as it equalises the statute of limitations for plots with buildings and that of buildings constructed on non-developable land. This will lead to greater legal certainty, with the ability to determine the legal regime applicable to these properties clearly.
The logical consequence of this amendment is that buildings that are over six years old and that are built on land subdivided illegally will able to apply for the Assimilated-Outside-of-Planning Procedure (DAFO).
This procedure does not entail the legalisation of the building as the situation of illegality is always maintained but it can lead to greater legal certainty, as the City Council will certify the situation of the property on which legal liability has expired, without the possibility of being “attacked” again by the Administration itself, provided that, of course, no new buildings, renovations or improvements are made on said building.
This recognition, in addition to being a relatively significant financial outlay for the owner, will also entail the certification of a series of limitations for buildings on rural land, despite the fact that, with or without DAFO status, these limitations still exist. It will be up to each owner or new buyer to decide whether he or she is interested in requesting that recognition for the property in question, without forgetting that the City Council can require the owner to initiate it ex officio.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors, Malaga, Andalusia
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)