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LAWYERS IN MALAGA FOR ENGLISH LEGAL ADVICE ON BUYING, SELLING OR INHERITING IN ANDALUSIA

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MALAGA AND COSTA DEL SOL: GREAT TOURIST AREA, WORRYING WASTEWATER PURIFICATION

malaga, costa del sol, sewage, properties

The wastewater purification in Malaga, financial and environmental consequences

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.

Conclusion

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)

 

 

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

DAFO

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

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.

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, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)

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)

 

 

 

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)

 

 

PROPERTIES ON NON-DEVELOPABLE LAND AFFECTED BY RECENT FIRE IN COSTA DEL SOL

Legal risks rural house Spain fire

Legal risks rural house Spain fire

As a result of the terrible fire initiated last Thursday 30th in Coin, an estimate of 100 to 200 properties built on non-developable land within the municipal area of Coín, Mijas, Marbella, Ojén and Alhaurín el Grande were severely damaged and some of them completely ruined.

In this year 2012 the Decree 2/2012 for the regulation of buildings and scattered rural settlements on non-developable land in Andalusia was passed by the Andalusian Regional Government in January to put a stop to the problem of thousand of properties on non-developable land. However, this Decree does not currently apply nor does it mean the legalization of these properties, as it was already discussed on once of our previous article

According to the above mentioned Decree, most of these fire-affected properties are considered assimilated to out of ordination housing, as they were built without construction permits or infringing their condition and the municipal General Plan for Urban Planning PGOU. Therefore, no measures can be adopted to recover their legality, which has been disrupted over time and they cannot either be legalized. The only permission authorized by this Decree is “…works for the repair and maintenance which may require the strict maintenance of the security, occupation and health standards of the property” (Article 8.3 of the Decree).

In the event of some fire-affected properties considered out of ordination—properties built in accordance with the municipal PGOU, but considered “out of its ordination” after the PGOU modification, the permitted construction works shall be provided by the municipal PGOU, which is currently under development in most of the municipalities. The Andalusian Town Planning Act L.O.U.A. shall be also considered as it provides that “…only repair works for the strict maintenance of property occupation or usage…” as well as “…exceptionally partial and circumstantial works may be permitted for the property consolidation…”. It is worth mentioning that only a few of these properties may be under the “out of ordination” condition.

This restriction or limitation to alter or renovate properties on non-developable land is provided by the definition on the Decree for “scattered rural properties”, which are included within the “out or ordination” concept and its variant “assimilated”. In accordance with the case law, this concept has been defined as “constructions to disappear once their useful life possibilities finishes—the “out of ordination” condition aims the usage of property until it finishes over time, ends up as a ruin and naturally disappears. For this reason, the Andalusian regulation always provides the granting of permits for this type of constructions for the strict maintenance and under exceptional circumstances.

The Decree does not provide the legalization of these properties. In fact, part of the status for these “assimilated to out of ordination” properties considered as illegal, makes them to be given a definition and their use limited, since no measures can be taken to protect their legality, so that they are “attacked”, as too much time has elapsed since the were built.

In the event of a disaster as fire, flood, earthquake, landslides, etc…, in which a property is in ruins or very damaged and cannot be used again for the purposes to be occupied as a residence, if we abide by the current regulations on these events, it would be very complicated to grant a construction o repair permit for these properties, since it is against the concept of “out of ordination” and “assimilated to out of ordination” provided by the Decree.

The problem lies in a Decree which does not give any solution to the current legal condition of these properties, which have been tolerated by the Andalusian Regional Government and Town Councils for many years. During all these years, nobody has done anything at all on this matter and for that reason no legal measures can be legally adopted to restore their legality.

According to the first political reactions read on the papers about the burned properties, it seems that each particular case may be studied. In some cases, a forced and exceptional interpretation out of the legal framework would be adopted, so that those families with just one house would be allowed to rebuild and live on their non-developable lands as they did before the fire. The problem of this “shortcuts” to implement what the legal regulations do not provide is that a precedent is set, so that in the future event that any of the owners of the more than 100,000 properties built in non-developable land in Andalusia had a disaster of this kind, aren’t they also entitled to receive a similar treatment from the Public Administration? For this reason, the problem lies in a Decree for appearance’s sake, which does not solve the problem and is currently open to doubt in this type of situations.

 

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

 

OBTAINING THE LICENCE OF FIRST OCCUPATION

Importance Licence First Ocupation LFO

Importance Licence First Ocupation LFO

We have recently known, through our clients’ consultations, of the situation that most of the owners of La Axarquía area suffer, which comes from the lack of a License of First Occupation on their properties, particularly, regarding those problems with contract the supplies, such as the electricity supply for their first time or for its restoration, after being cut off by the electricity company (i.e. end of construction site temporary power).

The License of First Occupation is a certificate issued by the town hall that confirms that a newly-built property fully complies with all planning and building regulations, and is ready to be used as a dwelling. It also confirms the compliance with all Health, Safety, Planning and Construction laws, and that the property has been fully completed, with no outstanding works. Each newly built dwelling will have an individual License of First Occupation. License of First Occupation only applies to newly-built properties as the L.F.O. is the original authorization to use them as a dwelling.

Granting a License of First Occupation certifies that the developer has built the dwelling fully complying with the original Town Hall’s Building License, as well as complying with all Planning laws.

The first occupation licence wasn’t required before 1978, this means all the properties with more than 37 years won’t have it.

The License of First Occupation is required to have access to the official supplies (water, electricity, gas,…).

The Spanish law requires the granting of the License of First Occupation to set up any utility contract for the property. Nevertheless, the most of the properties  without the first occupation licence have electricity supply and water supply. Many of these properties haven’t a first occupation licence due to the works in the urbanization aren’t finished yet but the owners are living there. We can say that in many cases the real situation of these properties haven’t anything to do with the content of the law.

It is always advisable to complete the purchase with a valid License of First Occupation (LFO) in place, even if it is not illegal to complete at the Notary office without a License of First Occupation. In other words, the property purchase completion before a Spanish Notary public without a LFO is legal in Spain, and the property can be lodged under your name at the Land Registry records. However, it is not legal to “live” in a property without the License of First Occupation. This is the reason because not having it in the new homes will prevent you from having access to water and electricity supplies for the property in order to get them connected.

Properties without LFO can be bought, sold and registered at the Land Registry. So it is not illegal to sell a property without LFO. If you own a newly-built property that was not issued with the License of First Occupation you might have trouble selling it as the potential buyers may seek for a steep discount because of this matter.

The information concerning the LFO given in this post may have to be understood as a benchmark to all those new built properties according to a building license previously obtained and complying with all Planning laws. If this building license was not given, if it was not according with Planning laws, or, in the event that the works carried out did not adhere to the building plan, we will be in another different situation, and the way to get access to these supplies would be different as well. But this is an issue which will be analyzed in a further post, taking into consideration the new measures introduced by the called new “Decree of legalization”, approved by the Andalusian Parliament last 10th of January, in this sense, which is not in force yet.

 

Author: Francisco Delgado Montilla, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

ADVICES FOR OWNERS OF NON-REGISTERED HOMES IN THE LAND REGISTRY

New building declaration and Land Registry records

New building declaration and Land Registry records

The possibility of registration in the Land Registry of constructions without building permits after four years of completion, is provided by a State regulation - Spanish Royal Decree Real Decreto 1093/1997 of 7th of July, Section 52 provides this possibility, as well as the following requirements for this registration: 1) proceedings of town planning discipline shall not appear in the Land Registry against the construction; 2) the time fixed by law shall have been elapsed in order to “tackle” this infraction through the administrative procedure and 3) certification of the year of completion of the construction.

Thanks to the above mentioned Section of the Royal Decree, thousands of constructions have been registered in the Land Registry, although they did not have the building permits or the constructions did not comply with the conditions of the building permits.

This Section has not been modified and is still in force, however some elements has been incorporated to increase the requirements demanded by the Land Registry offices and to “toughen” the requirements for the admission of this registration, as for example:

1) Amendment of Section 20.4 of the Spanish Land Law which refers to the declarations of new buildings and incorporates a new requirement for its registration in the Land Registry—the submission of a certificate from the city council stating the fuera de ordenación (out of ordination) condition for this construction.

2) As a result of the approval of the new regulation Reglamento de Disciplina Urbanística (town planning discipline regulation) by the Junta de Andalucía Regional Government in May 2010, pressure and control have been increased above these constructions located in non-developable (non-urbanizable) lands. The Junta de Andalucía have notified the Directorate General for Registries and Public Notaries, so that they demand new obligations for the registration of declarations of new buildings, as for example, the submission of a certificate from the city council, so that the Registry record the “fuera de ordenación” condition (out of ordination) or the “asimilado a fuera de ordination” condition (assimilated to out of ordination).

3) Some Land Registry offices have begun to demand the submission of this certificate from the city council as an essential requirement for the registration of the declarations of new buildings.

 

What do all these changes mean for owners who want to register their home?

In the event that in the future the Land Registry requires owners the submission of this certificate from the city council to register their home, swimming-pool, garage or any other construction in their property, these below may be the consequences:

1) Increase of the economic costs for the declaration of the new building, because some city councils are approving ordinances for the payment of fees for obtaining it, as they need financial resources; in some cases, these costs may range between EUR 2,000-5,000, depending on the square meters of the property.

2) As any other application to city councils, this procedure would be slow and may imply several months until obtaining the certificate; in case owners need to obtain the declaration of new building urgently because of a sale, this period of time may become an important handicap.

3) The fact of recording in the Land Registry the fuera de ordenación” (out of ordination) condition or asimilado a fuera de ordenación” (assimilated to out of ordination) condition on their property, implies the documentary evidence of some limitations, which may affect the sale price when transferring the property to a prospective buyer. It is also worth mentioning that the prospective buyer may demand a discount in a possible transaction regarding this fact.

To sum up, in the event that the Registry offices toughen in the future the requirements to register any construction in the Land Registry and the resulting increase of the costs and period of time for the procedure completion, we advise you to take advantage of the current situation and execute the Public Deed of Declaration of New Building of your home as soon as possible and submit it to the Land Registry to avoid any problem in the future.

 

 

Author: Francisco Delgado Montilla, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

Contact

C&D SOLICITORS S.L.P.
Calle La Noria, oo Edif. Recreo II, 1-15
29793 Torróx-Costa (Málaga), Spain
(Entrance at backside of building)
Our law firm is located 40 km East from Malaga capital and 10 km West from Nerja.

Ariane Wijk
wijk@cdsolicitors.com
T: +34 - 952 532 582

Gustavo Calero Monereo
calero@cdsolicitors.com
M: +34 - 677 875 078

Francisco Delgado Montilla
delgado@cdsolicitors.com
M: +34 - 659 218 470

Guillermo Arenere Ruiz
arenere@cdsolicitors.com
T: +34 - 952 532 582

Paula Ludewig
ludewig@cdsolicitors.com
T: +34 - 952 532 582

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Wednesday, Friday: 09:30 - 15:30

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