In September 2013 I published an article where I mentioned a judgment rendered by a Court in Albacete on the 8th of June 2012 and that was confirmed by the Provincial Court in the same year. In these proceedings forty-six homebuyers who purchased off-plan houses that were never built -but for which they had made several payments on account- sued the developer and the bank jointly, despite not having bank guarantees for the amounts paid.
As I mentioned in that article this judgment (a first at the time) ordered the bank to refund all the amounts paid by the buyers. It thereby established joint and several liability with the developer of the homes through an interpretation of articles 1 and 2 of Law 57/1968, of 27 July 1968 on the collection of advance payments in the construction and sale of homes.
This however was just an isolated judgment, which did not set precedent. In fact, in the two years since, there have been judgments both in favour and against banks.
These different interpretations have come to an end as, on 21 December 2015, due to the many contradictory judgments the Supreme Court rendered an appeal judgment on this matter. This judgment of the Spanish High Court unifies the criteria to prevent different interpretations by other courts. The Supreme Court is certain about the interpretation of these regulations and ruled in favour of individual homebuyers.
The High Court understands that the credit institutions where homebuyers deposit advance payments to purchase a home under construction, must respond to homebuyers. This refers to cases where the homes are not completed by the developer and the latter has no money or is insolvent, making it impossible for homebuyers to recover any money paid.
In the Fifth Legal Grounds, the last paragraph of the judgment, the Court states that the credit institution has the legal responsibility of a special duty of oversight over the developer to which it issues a loan for the construction of those homes, so that the deposits of homebuyers, especially individuals, are transferred to the special account that developers must open and the bank must require the developer to guarantee all the amounts it collects.
Credit institutions that grant loans to developers to build homes, have the legal obligation of opening a special and separate account, duly guaranteed, so that the amounts that buyers pay for the homes are deposited in that account. If the credit institution does not guarantee that buyers' money is deposited in a special account, it will be held liable for the total amounts deposited by buyers in any type of account held by the developer at the entity.
In other words, if the bank has not ensured the protection of the buyers' money, with this Judgment, there is no longer any legal doubt that the bank will be sentenced to refund, from its own “pocket”, the money paid by homebuyers in cases where the developer does not complete homes and it has no money or becomes insolvent.
In my humble opinion, it seems logical and consistent for the Supreme Court to have settled this matter in favour of homebuyers.
In banking practice, most developers building homes off-plan create a company aimed exclusively at building that development, with these companies usually being devoid of any assets.
From now own, I believe that these loans issued to developers will only be granted after reviewing the solvency and guarantees of the developers thoroughly and that branks will monitor the money that buyers pay for their homes.
In these situations, with this judgment by the Spanish High Court, buyers of homes that are not completed will have the necessary legal certainty to get, through a Judgment, banks to be ordered to refund their money, thereby having more options available to recover the money they lost.
It is very likely that, if this situation arises, now, with this judgment, the bank will choose to avoid legal proceedings and reach a settlement with buyers.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Nerja/Andalucia)