Archive for legal advice
It is clear that the healthcare crisis caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a huge impact on all areas of our daily lives. The state of alarm decreed by the Spanish government, as well as many other governments in foreign countries, has caused movement restrictions and limitations, the closure of the airspace, the paralysis of the business fabric and government agencies, etc. People's everyday lives have been severely affected from a social and economic standpoint.
With this article, we would like to respond, as much as possible, to the doubts and uncertainties of foreign clients buying homes in Spain, as well as their sellers. We are referring to sales between individuals that were already underway with signed contracts but which were 'surprised' by the COVID-19 crisis and the measures adopted by the Spanish government decreeing the state of alarm.
At the end of the article, we will comment briefly on the legal situation of sales of new homes or off-plan sales from developers.
What does Spanish law say on the fulfilment of purchase contracts?
The first thing that must be said emphatically is that, under Spanish law, the clauses agreed in a contract have the force of law and, therefore, the parties are required to fulfil them. In other words, the impossibility of fulfilling what has been agreed in a contract is an exception and is interpreted very restrictively.
The Spanish Supreme Court, when dealing with potential breaches of contract and to avoid the loss of the money paid, has established that the party in breach has to evidence and argue the reasons behind said breach, as well as prove that it did everything possible to perform the contract.
However, even after establishing the impossibility of complying with the contract, if it is possible to amend or adapt it so it can be fulfilled, the parties must seek to modify the contract in that way, to solve the problem arising from the situation caused by the state of alarm and the COVID-19 Corona crisis. In other words, when faced with the potential avoidance of the contract by one of the parties, they must always attempt to reach an agreement to fulfil it.
Which property sales could be affected by the state of alarm?
In my opinion, the conveyance contracts that may be affected are those that required either of the parties to fulfil a requirement or condition agreed in the contract before the execution of the public deed of sale and that condition is affected by these months of paralysis.
Due to the paralysation of activities and movement limitations, it is very possible that some of the requirements established in a conveyance contract cannot be fulfilled, as the estimated time to process or manage these were calculated based on a normal situation, which has not existed since 13 March. As an example, we can mention the following:
Purchase contracts in the state of alarm:
- For the conveyance contract to establish the condition of being granted a building permit or the record for legalisation of a home, such as DAFO in rural homes in Andalusia. As city halls are paralysed or working at minimum levels, it is very possible for these applications not to be processed until the state of alarm is brought to an end.
- For the condition to be obtaining a Spanish mortgage. If the appraiser cannot travel to visit the property or the bank's risk department is not operating, this process will be paralysed, making the average resolution time much longer than initially expected.
- For the date of signing the conveyance contract and recording it as a public deed to coincide with the period of the state of alarm and/or the restrictions on commercial flights, making it impossible for either of the parties to attend the notary office.
- The impossibility to obtain an NIE (foreigner's identification number.), which is necessary to sign a conveyance contract before a notary and pay the corresponding taxes. The processing of these documents is currently suspended. The national police stations in Malaga that we asked don't know when they'll be able to open to accept new NIE applications.
- Either of the parties being admitted into hospital or in quarantine.
What should the seller and buyer do in this situation?
Well, the first thing is to see if the private contract contains any clause that governs these situations since, as I've mentioned, the sales or purchase contract has the force of law and binds the parties. However, in conveyance processes where the deed cannot be signed for reasons arising from the coronavirus crisis, what both parties should do would be to amend the contract and extend it, to give time to the party that needs it in order to complete the sale. In most situations, it is only a matter of time for that circumstance or condition that is currently impossible to fulfil to be fulfilled later on.
Likewise, in the event of inflexibility and the refusal of either of the parties to grant such an extension to the conveyance contract, in most cases there would be no legal grounds to terminate the contract and/or claim damages. As mentioned above, the parties must always attempt to reach an agreement to comply with the contract.
Is it possible for the buyer to terminate the contract due to the COVID-19 crisis?
Withdrawing from a conveyance contract due to a sudden drop in house prices and in the face of an economic crisis is a complex issue. In this case, we are referring to the buyer having to accredit meeting one of the requirements established in case law for terminating purchase contracts, this being that there has been an extraordinary change in the circumstances leading to the execution of said contract.
In other words, the buyer would have to evidence that the current economic crisis, resulting in a deep and prolonged economic recession, could be openly considered an economic phenomenon able to generate a severe disruption or change in the circumstances leading to the execution of said contract.
In Spain, the courts have been rejecting the possibility to terminate a sales or purchase contract based on this circumstance. However, this possibility should not be ruled out and individual factors should be analysed, such as whether the home will be a primary home or a holiday home, if the buyer was in need of mortgage financing, if the financial situation of the buyer has changed significantly, etc.
What is the buyer's situation in the sales process?
With this question, what we want to address is the situation of a buyer who made a decision to purchase a home at a specific price a few months ago, based on an economic situation that is in no way similar to the current one.
Let's imagine Dutch, Belgian, English, Swedish or other foreign people who wanted to invest in property in Malaga or the Costa del Sol, either to obtain a profit or to let it. Clearly, the sales price they agreed was based on the value of that property under the earlier economic situation. For instance, let's imagine a home in the historic centre of Málaga or Nerja, highly sought-after areas with tourist attractions before COVID-19, with great possibilities for letting in the tourist market, which is currently suspended.
Well, as a buyer, in the event that continuing with the purchase of the property would lead to incurring significant levels of debt, the first thing to do would be to analyse two things:
- The amount of money paid to the seller (usually 10% of the purchase price). Whether the buyer is willing to lose that money, essentially due to thinking that it is better to lose the money and not buy the property.
- The content of the purchase contract clauses agreed in terms of what happens when the buyer breaches the purchase contract. This is an important issue because a breach of contract could lead to different legal situations. The usual process is to execute an earnest money contract, which entails losing the money paid to the seller, leading to the termination of the contract, this being the clause that our firm usually agrees in conveyance contracts. However, if this is not properly drafted in the contract, it is possible for the seller to be entitled to require the buyer to comply with the purchase contract and sign the public deed, even if the buyer agreed to lose the earlier money paid. Obviously, this claim from the buyer would have to be addressed in judicial proceedings, which would take years before the parties get a resolution and usually sellers settle for keeping the money paid as a deposit.
What is the seller's situation in the selling process?
For sellers, they are most likely the most interested in completing the sale of the home as, certainly, the price set in the sales / purchase contract signed before COVID-19 will be higher than what they can obtain in the short or medium term. Without a doubt, the current situation will lead to a general drop in house prices, even though no one knows how long this will last.
That said, it is possible for sellers who already have a signed contract and who see that buyers are hesitating to complete the conveyance to be interested in making it easier for buyers to complete the purchase. In other words, in this context, negotiating a lower price so that the seller can sell doesn't seem far-fetched. In the end, the price drop would depend on whether it is very important for the seller to sell right now or they can wait, or whether the money already paid by the buyer is enough compensation for the seller to agree to keep that amount as a penalty instead of negotiating.
What is the situation when purchasing new builds or off-plan homes?
In sales of this type, in terms of the performance of the contract by the buyer, the situation is the same as explained above, in terms of both compliance with the contract and its termination clauses. In my opinion, the buyer's potential doubts would be determined by the progress of the works and the expected completion date of the development, also thinking about the financial solvency of the developer.
If the buyer signed the sales contract over one year ago, when the market was experiencing a good time and prices were rising, it is very likely for the price agreed at that time to be lower than what they could find at the beginning of this year, for instance. On the other hand, if the works are close to completion, there would be little doubt as to whether the developer will complete them, as they would be almost completely sold and few buyers would be thinking about terminating the purchase contract, since they would have already made significant payments on account for their homes. In this case, the scenario for the buyer is safe.
In the case of developments where construction has not yet started but which were already being marketed, with expected completion likely coming in a year or two, the scenario is different. In this case, buyers who are in doubt and recently signed the private contract must assess the price of the property and its completion date, as well as find out the number of homes with signed contracts sold by the developer, in order to make a decision. However, if the private contract has not yet been signed and only a reservation had been agreed with the developer, they can withdraw from it and recover the amount paid. They can also wait longer, as developers are likely to lower prices, depending on how long the crisis lasts.
In terms of the solvency of developers, due to the obligation to guarantee all the amounts paid during construction once the private contract has been signed, the buyer would have complete legal certainty in the event that the developer is unable to complete construction. This situation is in no way similar to the 2008 crisis, where many buyers lost their payments on account.
Individual review situation purchase contracts
However, these sales processes starting prior to the COVID-19 crisis can lead to complex situations that should be analysed individually and always with the advice of a lawyer. This is not the time to make decisions without the appropriate legal knowledge, taking into account that a private conveyance contract has already been singed. Rushing is never a good idea.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors, (Málaga, Andalusia)
Due to the actual crisis that has been declared in the whole world by the World Health Organization because of the Coronavirus (also known as Covid-19), almost every country has put into force different measures.
*This document has been written according to the law and Decrees in force until 4th April 2020.
In Spain, the 14th March 2020, the government declared the “state of alarm” (regulated in Art. 116.1 of the Spanish constitution and the organic law 4/1981), for 15 days, (until the 29th March), through the Real Decree 463/2020, closing museums, monuments, restaurants and almost every business open to the public. Nevertheless, concerning the increase of the infections, the state of alarm has been extended for another 15 days until the 12th April 2020, after the approval of the Parliament ( Congreso de los Diputados, Decree 11/2020), and pending for another extension until the 26th April.
The main goal of these decrees is to prohibit free movement of people in order to prevent further increase of infection among the Spanish population. Nevertheless, all these measures have economical, fiscal and, of course, social consequences.
Extension of the payment dates for self-employed and small entrepreneurs (PYME) (Deferral and split payments).
- Self-employed and small entrepreneurs with a turnover of less than € 6.010.121,04, are allowed to defer payment of the tax debt (less than 30,000 euros) without the need to provide a guarantee for a 6-month term. The first three of these months will not accrue default interest, with the consequent. Said deferral only refers to settlements or self-assessments that had to be presented or entered from March 13th to May 20th of 2020 (article 14 Decree 7/2020).
- A postponement of tax debts that previously could not be postponed is now allowed (article 65 LGT):
- Those that the person is required to make payments on account for (art. 65.2 b), such as the quarterly model 111 or the 3% model Modell 211.
- Those derived from taxes that must be passed on by law having been collected (art. 65.2 f), such as model 303 of VAT
- Fractional payments of Corporation Tax. (art. 65.2 g), such as IS model 202
Suspension of legal terms not concluded before March 14 (Decree 8/2020 and 11/2020)
Article 33 of Royal Decree-Law 8/2020 and its clarification with Decree 11/2020 applies to all taxpayers, extending the deadlines not concluded before March 14, 2020, until April 30 2020 for:
- The payments of tax debt for liquidations in the voluntary period and those that, in the executive period, have been notified of the enforcement order. For example: if you have been notified of a settlement for the payment of a tax debt on March 12 you would have to pay it no later than April 20 (according to the General Tax Law in its article 65.2), however, with this decree the payment can be postponed until April 30.
- Deadlines and fractions of deferrals already granted (prior to March 14, 2020 without prejudice to the deadlines reflected in art. 14 of the previous Decree 7/2020), as well as the deadlines on auctions and adjudication of goods made by the Treasury state.
- Deadline to meet the state agency requirements, embargo proceedings, requests for information or to make allegations in tax procedures (regarding nullity, rectification of errors, requesting returns).
- If there was doubt as to whether or not these tax procedures initiated by the corresponding autonomous and local Administration, the new Decree 11/2020, in its article 53, establishes that the suspension of the aforementioned period also applies to local and autonomous administration (in the art.33 of decree 8/2020).
- Deadlines to meet requirements and requests of the cadastre.
- No proceedings to execute the guarantees already seized which fall on real estate in the administrative procedures of constraint
What happens with the procedures communicated as of March 14?
For all the aforementioned procedures communicated as of that date, they are extended until May 20 of 2020 (unless the one granted by another tax rule is higher).
For example: if a settlement for the payment of a tax debt was notified on March 19, in normal cases you would have to pay it no later than May 5, however, with this decree, payment can be deferred until May 20.
However, in any of the above assumptions, if the taxpayer complied with the requirement, paid the tax debt or presented allegations despite the deferment granted, they will be understood to have been carried out for all purposes, procedure completed.
What happens with self-assessments such as the payment of Property Transfer Tax in the sale of a home?
When a person buys a home in Andalusia, they have 30 days to pay the Property Transfer Tax, which is currently 8% of the purchase price. The payment of the same is done through a self-assessment. In other words, the buyer or his/her representative prepares this tax model and presents it voluntarily for payment within that period.
The decree regarding the state of Alarm does not include self-assessments as deferrable, according to Royal Decree 465/2020, of 17 March, amending Royal Decree 463/2020 of 14 March, declaring a state of alarm, so for example, neither the quarterly settlements of VAT nor personal income tax (models 130 and 303) are postponed and maintains their deadline for April 20 for the third quarter.
What happens during the state of alarm with the legal term of actions that tax authorities can exercise against someone and the deadlines for filing appeals?
Royal Decree 11/2020 establishes that the period from March 14 to April 30, will not count for the purposes of prescription in the actions that the tax administration may exercise against the administered.
Let's take an example, if the administration had a maximum period until March 19 to demand payment of a tax, and it has not been demanded by March 13 the administration automatically has until April 30 to request payment.
There would neither be a deadline for the expiration of the procedures initiated by the administration.
On the other hand, the deadlines for the filing of administrative economic appeals against tax acts or in the economic-administrative procedures not notified before March 14, 2020, do not start until after April 30, 2020.
What happens with the income declaration from rentals or the annual IRNR declaration for non-residents?
These deadlines do not vary, meaning that all non-residents in Spain receiving an income from rentals of a property here in Spain must declare said profit quarterly within the corresponding period.
Author: Guillermo Arenere Ruiz, lawyer at C&D Solicitors, Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)
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)
As we stated in our post in February 2015, on 01/01/2015, the regulations governing Inheritance Tax were amended, EU citizens began paying the same Inheritance Tax as citizens resident in Spain. From that time EU citizens were able to pay tax in accordance with the regulations of the Autonomous Community where the assets are located. Remember that these regulations are much more beneficial than national regulations on Inheritance Tax, which were applied to EU citizens until that date. This amendment left non-EU citizens out, which were required to continue paying tax according to national regulations.
Supreme Court rules in favour of Non-EU members
However, two judgments of the Supreme Court, in February and March 2018, referring to residents in non-EU countries such as Canada or Switzerland, determined that there would be discrimination contrary to the free movement of capital if non-EU citizens were not allowed to opt for regional regulations in the same manner as EU citizens. Therefore, these non-EU citizens should also be treated in the same manner as EU citizens in terms of Inheritance and Donations Tax, also being eligible to receive regional tax benefits.
We should add that the free movement of capital is enshrined in article 63 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which prohibits all restrictions on the movement of capital between Member States and between Member States and third countries, making the limitations for non-EU citizens in terms of Inheritance Tax contrary to the regulations of the European Union.
Since September 2018, the Spanish Tax Agency decided to comply with these rulings and started accepting settlements of Inheritance Tax for non-EU citizens, applying the regulations of the relevant autonomous community to these.
Benefits of tax calculations by Autonomous Communities
This change in tax criteria represents significant savings in terms of inheritance for non-EU citizens, as it should be noted that, in most Autonomous Communities in Spain -including Andalusia-, a widowed spouse, children and descendants, such as grandchildren, barely pay any Inheritance Tax, as they are eligible for significant bonuses. These bonuses in Andalusia were explained in detail in our article from January 2018.
Possibility to reclaim tax until four years back
Suffice it to say that this tax change opens the door to claims from non-EU heirs who have paid Inheritance and Donations Tax over the last few years, if a comparison between national and regional regulations were to show that they paid much more than an EU citizen would have. This claim may be filed provided that the right to claim has not been time-barred, the deadline being established at four years after the payment was made.
Brexit and British citizens
As a last note, considering the consequences of Brexit for British citizens with properties and assets in Spain, fortunately, even if they remain outside the European Union and would be considered non-EU citizens, they would be able to continue to benefit from bonuses and discounts in Inheritance and Donations Tax in the same manner as before.
It should be noted that there are many British homeowners and buyers with properties in Spain and, at least, their heirs will not be harmed in terms of taxes payable in a future inheritance procedure.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)
It's usual when couples break up and they own a property at 50% -or in properties belonging to several heirs- that for various reasons one of the joint owners would want to sell his or her share and the other one would want keep the entire property. Said sale or purchase can be made effective through executing a Deed of co-ownership termination (Extincion de Condominio).
Over these deeds 1.5% AJD Tax (Actos Juridicos Documentados / Stamp Duty) is paid instead of the normal 8% ITP / Transfer Tax. There now is an important change that even lowers this AJD tax and makes it possible to claim back money from the Spanish Tax Office.
What is the Extincion of Condominio and what are its benefits?
It's usual when couples break up and they own a property at 50% -or in properties belonging to several heirs- that for various reasons one of the joint owners would want to sell his or her share and the other one would want keep the entire property. Said sale or purchase can be made effective through executing a Deed of co-ownership termination (Extincion de Condominio). Co-ownership termination consists in transferring something that belongs to several owners, who agree to award it/sell it to one of them, with the other joint owner/buyer paying a price for acquiring the share that belonged to the others.Termination entails the end of joint ownership and this asset becomes the property of a single individual but it's only applicable to properties belonging to several owners, if they decide to sell everything to one of them. It wouldn't apply if the sale of this share goes to more than one owner, e.g. if there are three joint owners and two of them keep the other one's share.
Termination of co-ownership offers one main advantage over a sale: the tax paid by the buyer to acquire this share of the property is significantly lower. While in Andalusia the tax on asset transfers for the purchase of a home is 8%, the tax paid for termination of co-ownership is 1.5%, as Stamp Duty (AJD Actos Juridicos Documentados). In other words, to benefit from the tax rate for co-ownership termination, there can only be one owner of the property in the end as, otherwise, this would be considered a normal sale and be taxed at 8% ITP Transfer Tax.
% ITP tax
- 3 Couples have a joint property. 1 Couple sells their 33,33% on a 50-50 base to the other 2 couples. Both remaining couples pay 8% over their bought share because the property stays in co-ownership.
- 2 Couples have a property and 1 couple sells to the other couple that is married in separation of goods. They pay 8% ITP tax because the tax office sees this married couple as 2 parties.
- 3 Brothers inherit a property and 1 sells his part to 1 brother that then owns 66,66%. The buyer pays 8% ITP because there still is a co-ownership of the property.
1.5% AJD tax
- A married couple gets divorced or 2 non-registered partners end their relationship. One sells to the other, so there is no co-ownership anymore and the remaining owner pays 1.5% AJD over the bought 50% of the property.
- 2 Couples have a property and 1 couple sells to the other couple that is married in joint assets. They pay 1,5% AJD tax because the tax office sees them as 1 party.
- 3 Brothers inherit a property and 2 sell their part to 1 brother that then owns 100%. The buyer pays 1.5% AJD over the bought share of 66,66% because there still is no co-ownership anymore.
The owner/buyer now pays less tax
Since 9 October 2018, thanks to a Judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court, the tax cost assessed for termination of co-ownership has been significantly reduced. Up to that date –incomprehensibly– the tax of 1.5% was paid on the entire value of the property, even if, for instance, the share transferred was just 50% of the property. However, with this judgment, a new approach is established, in which tax will only be paid according to the value of the share effectively being transferred, i.e. only on the price to be paid to the seller, thereby avoiding the extra cost that this type of transfer entailed when tax was paid for 100% of the property value, even if the share acquired was just 30%.
Possibility to claim previous payments AJD tax
Likewise, this change in taxation through the aforementioned judgment can have positive consequences on Deeds of Co-Ownership Termination executed within the last four years. Owners who were already joint owners of a property and acquired the rest by paying the price and paying 1.5% tax on the total property value can file a refund claim for undue payments before the corresponding Tax Office. The tax office of the Andalusia Council is the oficina liquidadora.
They can claim a refund of the 1.5% paid for the share of the property they did not acquire, as they already owned that share. If they purchased 30% of the property two years ago and had to pay 1.5% of the total property value, they can claim a refund of the 1.5% paid for the 70% of the property they already owned when they purchased the remaining 30%.
Important: You can only claim back any tax paid within the four years prior to the date of filing the claim for undue payments, as this is the maximum time period to file a claim in accordance with Spanish tax law. I.e. the submission date of the claim cannot be later than four years after the due date of this tax, which is 30 days after the execution of the Deed of Co-Ownership Termination.
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)
THE CURRENT SITUATION OF INHERITANCE TAX
On 1 January 2018, a new reform of Inheritance Tax entered into force in Andalusia, the main change of which was to raise the tax-exempt amount to one million euros. This new reform changes the reform introduced a year ago, which we explained in our post of November 2016.
Which heirs would be exempt from Inheritance Tax?
Heirs that meet each one of the following requirements would be exempt:
- For the heir to be included in groups I and II as established in the regulation governing this tax, the heir needs to be the spouse, child, grandchild or parent of the deceased
- For the value of the estate to be inherited per heir does not exceed one million euros
- For the pre-existing assets of the heir to be less than one million euros
- For the heir to be a citizen of a Member State of the European Union or, if they are citizen from outside the European Union, both the deceased and the heir must reside in Andalusia
What happens with other family members who inherit?
All other heirs, such as siblings, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts and cousins of the deceased are included in groups III and IV of the Inheritance Tax and will continue to pay the same amounts.
In other words, these heirs will pay inheritance tax from the first euro they inherit except for heirs in group III, who are able to deduct an amount of 7,993.46 euros. This means, for example, that if John leaves his nephew his Nerja property valued at 240,000 euros as inheritance, his nephew will have to pay about 63,000 euros in Inheritance Tax.
What happens if you inherit from your best friend?
You would be included in group IV of this regulation. This means that if John, instead of leaving the 240,000-euro property to his nephew leaves it to his best friend, he or she will have to pay about 80,000 euros in Inheritance Tax.
How are property values calculated for Inheritance Tax for non-married longest living?
Every year, the Regional Government of Andalusia publishes a regulation that establishes certain coefficients to update the values of urban properties located in Andalusia. These coefficients are applied to the cadastral value of the property; this you can find in your Property Tax receipts. The result of applying these coefficients to the cadastral value is what we call the minimum taxable value.
The regulation explained above deals with the minimum taxable value of urban property but, in the case of rural property, this isn´t applicable. Therefore it is necessary to obtain a valuation from the technicians of the Regional Government of Andalusia to calculate the minimum taxable value. However, the Regional Government of Andalusia in the province of Malaga uses the coefficients published every year by the College of Architects of Malaga to calculate the value of rural properties.
Regarding the means used by the administration to calculate the minimum taxable value of properties in Andalusia –as well as other Autonomous Communities–, there is much controversy in general and there is the possibility to challenge those values in the event that the person liable to pay the tax deems them excessive or not adjusted to reality. This topic is complex enough to be covered in a whole new article.
NON-MARRIED LONGEST LIVING OR UNREGISTERED COUPLES IN ANDALUSIA
Who are we talking about?
In the event that a couple is not married –either in their country of origin or in Spain–, if one of them dies and leaves the other member of the couple as an heir, for the purposes of Inheritance Tax this person would be considered to be in group IV. In other words, in this case the partner is considered to be just a friend putting the person in the group with the highest rate of Inheritance Tax.
What happens to common-law partners registerd in Andalucia?
In Andalusia, couples registered in the Registry of Common-Law Partners of Andalusia are equivalent to married couples for the purposes of Inheritance Tax, for which reason they would benefit from the deductions for spouses explained above.
What happens to common-law partners registered in another Member State of the European Union?
In this case, the Regional Government of Andalusia does not recognise such registration for the purpose of Inheritance Tax, for which reason those couples would pay tax as though they had received inheritance from a friend, leaving them in the group taxed at the highest rate.
If John leaves his partner Mark 50% of the property they both purchased in Almuñecar in 2005 and if the fiscal value of that 50% is 120,000 euros, Mark, the heir, would have to pay about 30,000 euros in Inheritance Tax for inheriting 50% of that property.
If John and Mark had been married or registered in the registry of common-law partners of Andalusia, Mark would not pay a single euro for inheriting 50% of the property from John.
What should be done in this case?
If you have property in Spain with your partner and you would like him or her to inherit your part and you are unmarried, we advise that you get married (either in Spain or in your country of origin) so that you can benefit from Inheritance Tax reductions. Those who don´t want to get married, can register themselves in the Registry of Common-Law Partners of Andalusia (Registro de Pareja de Hecho) and then the status would be equivalent to that of a married couple.
Property owners who are not citizens of a Member State of the European Union
In this case, heirs may not benefit from reductions for spouses, children, grandchildren and parents of the deceased, so they would pay Inheritance Tax in the event that they inherit. They can only avoid this if both the deceased and the heir are resident in Andalusia.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)
If you are a non-resident in Spain and own a property there, you are liable to Spanish Income Tax for Non-Residents payment (Spanish IRNR). This issue was already considered in former articles on our website in November 2010 and October 2013:
When a property is owned by a married couple or several persons, each of them becomes an independent taxpayer, so that they should file tax returns separately according to the ownership interest they have on this property.
Depending on the property final use, the income subject to tax payment may be distinguished between:
1.- INCOME FROM LEASED PROPERTY: when the property is leased, the income to be declared will be the whole amount received, excluding Spanish VAT.
2.- TAXABLE INCOME OF URBAN REAL PROPERTY FOR PERSONAL USE: as this is the most common case, it will be deeply analyzed below:
The income to be declared is the amount resulting from the application of the following percentages to the property cadastral value:
- Generally, 2 per 100.
- In the event of property with a revised or modified cadastral value, 1.1 per 100 from the 1st of January 1994.
Once these percentages are applied, the final payable amount should be calculated for each of the owners pursuant to how long they have been owners of the property during the year.
Tax form 210 is used to pay this tax and it can be downloaded from the official web of the Spanish Tax Authority (A.E.A.T.), including the steps in English to fill it in. It is worthy mentioning that it is not easy to understand them.
Our office is currently dealing with the IRNR season 2012. The deadline to file this tax return expires on the 31st of December of this year. Although if you want to place the payment as a direct debit in your bank account the form must be filled before the 22nd of December. Thus, if you have owned a property in 2012, you should contact your tax advisor to fulfill this tax liability as soon as possible.
If you need our advice, we will be pleased to help you.
Author: Francisco Delgado Montilla, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)
Starting a new life with your own B&B in Spain
In recent years, during the course of our work, we have met many foreign customers interested in living in Andalusia Spain, preferably in coastal areas and having their own rural hotel, hostel or Bed & Breakfast (B&B). Many of these customers consider this option due to their attraction to Andalusian climate and culture, with the dream of changing their lives and enjoying life in an extremely charming country.
Taking over a business or starting up yourself?
The main option that customers interested in opening a B&B in Andalusia contemplate is to buy a business already in operation, with fewer people seeking to buy property to build the business from the ground up.
If you look on the Internet, there are quite a few ads for the sale of rural hotels and B&B´s. Many of these ads offer the method of transferring a business that is already operating, along with the rental or sale of the property where the activity takes place.
During the transfer of the business, its assets, such as customer portfolio, fixed assets, provisions, etc. are valued. This serves the purpose of establishing a transfer price for the business, which must be paid by the new owner interested in continuing the operations.
What is a reasonable ´traspaso´ price for buying an existing B&B?
The valuation of the business (traspaso) is usually based on its income during recent years and on net profit, as well as the value of its fixed assets, i.e., all remodelling, improvements and provisions acquired for said business. Obviously, licences and legal permits required for engaging in such an activity are a key part of the transfer value.
In the transfer method, the rental of the property is usually established, most often with a lease option, or the property may be sold directly to the new owner. It seems more reasonable to choose rental with a lease option for the property during the first years of the business as if, for any reason, the business is not what was expected and the profits or workload are not worth the effort, we would lose the amount paid for the transfer but would not have to remain the owners of a property we acquired for a business we no longer wish to operate.
As you may infer, the operational cost of a B&B may be high enough to justify carrying out, prior to its purchase, a due diligence process about it for the purpose of determining whether the asking price (traspaso) is reasonable. I consider three lines of action very important in this regard:
VALUE OF THE BUSINESS.
You should hire an economist, expert, or tax consultant to study the accounting of the business during recent years, including all tax documentation, as well as the accounts submitted at the Commercial Register. With this report, an objective professional, knowledgeable on the matter, will take a snapshot of the financial situation of the business.
In order to check whether the B&B you are seeking to purchase has all the necessary business licences, it is important for an architect to visit city hall and check whether the business is in order and complies with all the legal requirements for its operation. The architect will visit the property to verify that the infrastructure and installations are those legally required for this business and will issue a report of his or her findings.
PURCHASE OF THE BUSINESS.
Once you have decided to acquire the business, when preparing all the documentation for the transfer and rental/purchase of the property, it is important for an attorney to intervene so as to guarantee all the obligations of the parties, establish the payment method and protect the buyer from potential problems during its execution. If the property where the business will operate is located in a rural area, as is the case for many of these hotels, the intervention of an attorney is even more important, as these areas are subject to a series of legal limitations that must be reviewed.
Professional advice for your investment will pay back
It is obvious that this complete due diligence process for the B&B makes buying the business more expensive as you may spend a significant amount of money on these professionals and you may end up not buying the business. However, you must consider that spending thousands and thousands of euros, often from your savings or a bank loan, on something, before verifying its value, can lead to a very difficult financial and personal situation.
It is also a good idea to get informed about tourism in that area and expectations for the future. There are statistical data about the occupancy rates for rural accommodation that may help you. For instance, the Institute of National Statistics (INE) periodically publishes detailed occupancy surveys for rural tourism and any other type of accommodation and all this information, in detail and broken down by regions, can be accessed from its website.
New business changes after recession in Andalusia
For instance, on the 1 September, www.escapadarural.com published that rural tourism in Andalusia reached an occupancy rate of 36% in July and August. At the provincial level, 49% of businesses in Malaga were fully booked.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)