purchase, property, coronavirus, private contract

Purchase contracts in Spain and the COVID-19 Corona crisis

Purchase or sales contract during COVID / Corona crisis
Purchase or sales contract during COVID / Corona crisis

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)

 

SUCCESSFUL DUTCH REAL ESTATE FAIR FOR C&D

SUCCESSFUL DUTCH REAL ESTATE FAIR FOR C&D

Seminar ´Buying a house in Spain
Seminar ´Buying a house in Spain

As we already informed you in our previous news letter, C&D has been present at the Dutch Second Home fair in Utrecht last month. Being the only Spanish law firm on the fair, our daily seminars about the Spanish purchase process turned out to be the best attended during these three days, which proves that Spain is still a very attractive country for the Dutch to invest in. Also more than half of all exhibitors (mainly real estate agencies and developers) were focussed on Spain, which according to the organisation already has been the case for many years now.

In our stand we were able to speak to a lot of people with serious plans on buying a property in Spain, in most cases on the Costa del Sol or even particularly the Axarquia. The main issue in our conversations was to explain the important role of the lawyer during the purchase of a property in Spain. This situation is different from the Netherlands as in this country the lawyer´s work is completely done by the notary. We also got a lot of questions regarding wills and tax issues, for example on the subject of renting out a new bought property.

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

Stand of C&D Solicitors on Dutch Second Home Fair in Utrecht
Stand of C&D Solicitors on Dutch Second Home Fair in Utrecht

Our daily seminar we held in both Dutch and English and we explained the different phases of the buying process with the various legal documents there are to sign (reservation contract, private purchase contract and the title deeds). Besides of this we gave some background information on the official investigation of the lawyer, by which the future owner can make sure he´ll buy his property with all possible guarantees and free of any risks. (The extended Dutch text of our seminar you can find on the home).

Looking back we can say that this fair exceeded our expectations and has been really successful for us. Not only in the perspective of attracting new clients but also as a learning experience of presenting our company on the Dutch market. Despite of the good weather this Second Home edition in Utrecht attracted around 5.000 visitors.

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

THE “SUMMER HOLIDAY RENTALS” ISSUE

THE “SUMMER HOLIDAY RENTALS” ISSUE

Spain, summer, holiday, rentals, tax, law
New rules Spanish holiday rentals tax

On the 5th of June 2013, Spanish Law 4/2013 dated 4th of June was published in the Spanish Official Gazette B.O.E. This recent Law states the procedures to relax and promote the rental housing market. By means of this Law, the Spanish Government tries to regulate summer holiday rentals, which are not controlled by the Spanish Tax Administration Office.

These regulations aim at two basic objectives: on the one hand, to change people’s habit in respect of meeting their housing needs—up to now, people were inclined to purchase their usual home and obtain a mortgage. Now, it is a question to be more inclined to live in a rental home. And on the other hand, these regulations aim at combating underground economy of summer holiday rentals.

Nevertheless, these regulations leave summer holiday rentals without legal protection, because they provide that “rentals intended for non-residential use” are not regulated by the Urban Rental Law (Spanish acronym LAU), but by the regulations of Regional Governments according to their own criteria.

Particularly, Andalusian legislation on this respect is very strict and tough if compared with other Spanish regions. For example, owners with less than three rental properties in the same building or residential complex are not included within Andalusian regulations. As a result of that conditioning, a high percentage of owners are prevented from renting their second homes. This is aimed at combating “encroachment” upon the tourist professional field and unfair competition for traditional tour operators.

Alternatively, the new Law imposes strict and controlling measures for this type of summer rentals—the Spanish Tax Administration Office obliges electric companies to submit annually a report including household consumption. This is intended to gather the necessary data to detect those housing rentals that are not declared.

The new Law literally provides the following: “… it is not included within the scope of this law: … the temporary assignment for use of the entire furnished and equipped home to be immediately occupied, marketed and promoted through tourist offer channels for economic purposes, when this property is subject to a specific regime as a result of its sectorial regulations.    

Upon consideration of this statement, these regulations may be discussed and interpreted in respect of renting a home for holidays from a private landlord. We consider that this rental is possible, but it is necessary to tell the difference between two types of scenarios: on the one hand, the rental per days with a tourist purpose; and on the other hand, the seasonal rental.

In the former case, it implies a regular commercial use of the rental by a professional, offering other additional services apart from the accommodation. In fact, this kind of tourist apartment rentals was also excluded from Spanish Urban Rental Law (LAU) up to now. They were regulated by the legislation of the competent public bodies.

In the later scenario, we are not dealing with a tourist business activity, but a temporary assignment without additional obligation. Accordingly, this new Law does not seem to affect people under these conditions. In case it does, it may certainly imply a clear restriction of owners’ rights. They may be able to rent their homes per season, whether for a long term or a short term, including per days. In addition, these housing rentals are regulated under the protection of Spanish Urban Rental Law of 1994 (LAU).

 

 

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

 

 

BUILDING PERMIT INVALIDITY AND CONSEQUENCES FOR THIRD PARTIES IN GOOD FAITH

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)

 

 

TAX EXEMPTION WHEN SELLING YOUR PROPERTY IN SPAIN

TAX EXEMPTION WHEN SELLING YOUR PROPERTY IN SPAIN

Spanish tax exemption CGT seller 65+
Spanish tax exemption CGT seller 65+

The Spanish Constitution and the regulations (tax and social) developed thereof, regarding the protection of the elderly, guarantee that the elderly will receive a comprehensive system of care and protection that promotes and enhances the wellbeing of this section of the population, within which this article highlights the area of economic protection.

The purpose of this type of protection is to formulate a system of regulations that provide the elderly with the necessary economic resources, which will contribute towards their independence and improve their quality of life.

As principle provisions or benefits within this economic protection of the elderly, we can highlight, among other things: retirement pensions (contributory and non-contributory), supplementary economic provisions, various subsidies and aid, which is granted within the scope of Social Services, as well as certain tax benefits.

In relation to this matter, this article will focus on the exemption from capital gains tax, which, for those over 65, occurs at the time that their habitual residence is sold.

Gains derived from the transfer of immovable property are taxed, for non-residents, at a fixed rate of 19%. For residents, the first €6,000 is taxed at 19% and the rest is taxed at 21%.

Moreover, in the case of the transfer of property by a non-resident, the purchaser shall be obliged to withhold and pay 3% of the sale price as payment on account of taxes which should meet the requirements of capital gains for non-residents and that should be paid directly to the Tax Authorities. Said retention from the sale price is not incurred if the seller has the right to tax reduction for the transfer of property that is their habitual residence, for those over the age of 65.

Article 31.4 b) of Law 40/1998, which regulates personal income tax, establishes that  those over the age of 65 shall be exempt from capital gains in the event that the property transferred is their habitual residence.

The only two requirements for eligibility for this tax exemption are the following:

  • The taxpayer must be over 65 at the time that the transfer takes place.
  • The transferred property must be their habitual residence. In order that the property be considered a place of habitual residence for the purpose of this tax, two temporal limits are established: 1) it must be effectively occupied by the taxpayer within a period of 12 months from the date of acquisition or from the termination of any building work; 2) it must constitute their place of habitual residence for an on-going period of at least three years prior to the date of sale.

 

 

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

 

 

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