Tag: developer

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)

 

RECENT CONTROVERSIAL DEMOLITION OF TWO PROPERTIES

Controvercial demolition properties Andalucia
Controvercial demolition properties Andalucia

Last Monday October 14th, the Regional Andalusia Government Junta de Andalucia carried out the demolition of two houses which  were built without construction permit on non-developable land in the rural area of Las Terreras, in the municipality of Las Canteras, Almeria.

In this case, the developer did not have construction permits to build both properties. This is a different situation from that explained in our blog post in March, but there are also involved third parties in good faith, who bought the aforementioned properties to the developer/seller. The demolition of these properties means the infringement of a fundamental property right according to the interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has demanded that:

–          People affected by court or administrative proceedings which may imply the loss of their assets shall have the effective and real opportunity to defend their situation.

–          Property loss due to general interest—for example, the compliance of planning legality over ownership of assets—shall be previously compensated to the owner.

Therefore, upon consideration of this European case law, it is not sufficient that in these two cases the judgment has assessed civil liability and the seller-developer is sentenced to compensate owners who bought these properties, but this compensation should be made effective prior to demolitions to avoid the risk that the seller fails to pay or is not able to pay and, as a result of this, third parties in good faith are not compensated. It should be noted that subsidiary liability of public administrations is not observed, as no construction permit was granted.

In order to guarantee the payment of compensations, appropriate actions should be taken prior to execute demolitions in the same proceedings for the enforcement of judgments. If this were possible, this situation should be determined as a reason to stop the judgment enforcement until compensations are paid to the affected owners. Obviously, each case should be analysed in order to determine whether the owner knew about the absence of construction permits and even though he was aware of the risk involved, he bought the property. In these cases, protection for these owners should be different.

Regarding certain information compiled by different means, there is a chronological perspective to be pointed out in respect of these two demolitions, which reveal the inefficiency of inspection and penalty procedures in regards of town-planning regulations, as well as the belligerent approach of public administrations participating:

–          In 2004, the Andalusian Regional Government initiated a proceeding against the developer and he was fined because of the earthmovings in this area. Then, he was obliged to restore it to its original state. Obviously, the developer failed to comply with this order to restore it to its former state. In addition, the Town Council or Andalusia Regional Government should have acted in this moment, as well as they have done now, when carrying out the demolitions.

–          In 2007, the Andalusia Regional Government officially ordered to the Town Council the demolition of the properties, as they have been built on non-developable land without construction permits. From 2004 to 2007, 3 years have elapsed. During this period of time the 4 properties were built and no competent public administrations did paralyze the works before they were completed. As a result of this, the completed houses were entered into legal transactions and then new owners arised. Why were construction works not paralyzed within these years?

–          Once that the 4 properties were completed, the Town Council authorized water and electricity supply for them; this illegal authorization granted by the Town Council implied that these homes were appropriate to be occupied, as these supplies were essential for their sales.

–          In 2012, The Andalusia Regional Government seemed to request the Town Council to execute the demolitions.

–          In October 2013, the demolition of two properties was carried out by the Andalusia Regional Government, because the Town Council did not do so. The other two properties are also pending to be demolished.

Nine years have elapsed since the construction activities without permits are known until their demolitions were indeed executed. During this period of time, third parties in good faith have appeared and been affected by this situation. Have public administrations really done their utmost? Could have they acted earlier and with greater accuracy since 2004?

It would be a rather difficult task to think that the Andalusia Regional Government and Town Councils are not liable for a large number of homes built without permits on non-developable land in Andalusia—liability becomes obvious for those properties built with construction permits—since they had aerial images of each area, cadastral information and documents from the Payments Offices for transfer tax collection, which may have allowed them to protect non-developable land and enforce Andalusia town planning Act (LOUA). But they did not want to do so. Accordingly, as town planning duties have not been complied in respect of inspection and penalty procedures, the liability of Andalusia Regional Government and Town Council is joint and shared.

It is also worth mentioning the existence of certain arbitrariness on the part of public administrations when judgments were enforced, since older proceedings are still pending to be enforced and no actions are being taken on them.

Foreign residential tourism is a key factor for local economies in many areas; different national newspapers have been looked up and all of them echoed the new demolitions, which is a very harmful publicizing. They stressed the absence of economic compensations before demolitions were carried out, rather than demolitions itself.

It is not a question of implementing a general amnesty for all irregular acts executed on non-developable land without permits, since this may lead to a negative message for people who meet regulations. However, the fundamental property right should not be further infringed in conformance with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case law and property right should be protected in Spain as a fundamental right. In addition a legal  system which protects third parties in good faith should be provided in order to ensure legal certainty; inspection and penalty procedures should be carried out and should not go on forever due to the lack of interest of public administrations, so that their effectiveness may paralyze these type of constructions before they are entered into legal transactions; common sense and realism should be imposed and Regional Governments should be consistent with what has been accepted in these years, due to their failure to act or interminable penalty and enforcement procedures.

It seems understandable that town-planning legality will be now strictly enforced and hopefully it will be watched over. However, solutions should be provided from a logic and legal perspective for all previous cases.

 

 

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

 

 

 

RELEVANT RULING FOR HOMEBUYERS OF NON-COMPLETED PROPERTIES WITHOUT BANK GUARANTEES

Ruling for non-completed Spanish properties without bank guarantees
Ruling for non-completed Spanish properties without bank guarantees

In the last few years, it has become quite common the significant number of homebuyers who have purchased off-plan properties and paid large sums of money on account for their future homes, however, the developer has never completed nor handed them over. Consequently, the advanced money has been lost in many cases, because the developer may have gone bankrupt and lost all assets to refund these amounts to them.

Spanish Government passed in 1968 the Law 57/1968 dated 27th of July on the receipt of sums paid in advance prior to the construction and sale of homes. This was aimed at stopping several cases of homebuyers who lost their money paid for properties which never were built.

Spanish Law 57/1968 is still in force and solicitors, who are specialised in this issue, know the regulations for homebuyers’ protection in respect of sums paid in advance to developers for off-plan or under construction properties prior to their completion. However, the most relevant point at this moment is the judgment argumentation set out for the court proceedings where 46 homebuyers without bank guarantees securing advanced payments, made a legal claim jointly and severally to the bank and the developer demanding the total amounts paid, because the construction works were never completed. The judgment was pronounced by a court of first instance of Albacete on the 08/06/2012 and was confirmed by the Provincial Court on the 11th of February of this year.

The aforementioned judgment ordered the bank to refund all amounts of money paid by the homebuyers, considering that it was jointly and severally liable together with the developer, pursuant to the interpretation of Articles 1 and 2 of the abovementioned Law of 1968, Article 4 of the Spanish Ministerial Order of 1968 and the First Additional Provision of the Law 38/1999 on building regulations.

Although the bank was not a party on the sale agreement and did not either issue bank guarantees for homebuyers’ payments on account, the main line of argument of this judgment to consider the bank to be jointly and severally liable is that this bank knew about these payments in the developer’s account and was aware that these amounts were paid for the purchase of homes in a property development. As a result of that, the bank did not comply with the obligations provided by Law 57/1968 and committed a banking malpractice, pursuant to the interpretation of Article 1.2 of this Law, as the developer should have been required to open a special account where depositing its funds apart from any other amounts aimed at the construction of the properties. In addition, the bank should have not permitted these deposits in ordinary accounts, and particularly when this bank was the only financial entity financing the development and profited from this real estate business.

This judgment entails a court action to recover the money for those homebuyers without bank guarantee securing the amounts paid on account to developers, because, if appropriate, they could bring an action for joint and several liability against the bank where the developer’s loan was granted, where the payments were deposited and where the developer operated. Thus, homebuyers will have better chances to recover the sums paid, considering that there are already many judgments where developers has been condemned to pay, but court orders cannot be enforced because of their insolvency, while banks are always solvent.

 

 

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

 

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

New building declaration and Land Registry records
New building declaration and Land Registry records

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

DRAFT OF THE DECREE ON THE LEGALIZATION OF HOUSING ON NON-DEVELOPABLE LAND OF ANDALUSIAN REGIONAL GOVERNMENT

Three weeks ago, we received in our offices a copy of the draft implementing Decree of 20th of June 2011, which regulates building and scattered rural settlements on non-developable (non-urbanizable) land in Andalusia.

This draft is supposed to be created as an attempt to regulate the situation of a large number of properties located on non-developable (non-urbanizable) land in Andalusia, where criminal or administrative proceedings cannot be filed against them for land development liability, because the offense or infringement is extinguished by prescription. The Andalusian Regional Government is partially responsible for this situation, as they have not protected or controlled the legality regarding land developments of municipalities for many years. Meanwhile, they have collected the profits from the transfers of title ownership by means of the transfer tax.

Regarding the draft of the Decree, the concept of constructions assimilated out of ordination is not understood. The use and enjoyment of these constructions can be exercised, but a complex administrative procedure is established, so that the city councils certify the security and necessary facilities for the use and enjoyment of these properties. However, the resolution to this procedure shall never mean the grant of the First Occupancy License, neither the owner’s rights shall be recognized to be exercised before any administrative or criminal proceedings (article 7, section 6 of the Decree).

If the use of housing is recognized and regulated to preserve the rural area, the environment and the scenic value where the construction is located, then, why the First Occupancy License is not granted when the owner is enjoying the property? What does “non-recognition” mean before any court proceedings? As a result, it could be understood that in the event of court proceedings, this recognition of assimilated housing shall not have any legal “value” for these proceedings, that is to say, legalization or regulation does not exist.

Maybe, the problem is based in the creation of the concept “assimilated to out of ordination, which was incorporated by the Decree on Urban Discipline of Andalusian of 2010 and its implementation.

Furthermore, an additional problem arises, as the Land Registry jurisdiction belongs to the Spanish Government. As a result, the State legislation should firstly include this legal concept of “assimilated out of ordination” within its rules in order to authorize the registration in the Land Registry of any administrative action which establishes a construction under the consideration of this concept. Nowadays, the only existing concept is “out of ordination”, but nothing is referred to constructions “assimilated” to these ones. Then, the Regional Government is not authorized to establish the access or registration in the Land Registry, as this jurisdiction belongs to the Spanish Government.

Lastly, in many Andalusian municipalities as the Axarquía region, thousands of isolated houses have been built on non-developable land under the corresponding construction permits. Then, it does not seem coherent that differences in treatment are not considered for these owners acting in good faith, regarding these municipal permits they were granted. This draft of the Decree does not include any reference to them; therefore, the legal situation of the constructions with permits equates with these other constructions without permits.

In conclusion, regarding the content of the draft, legalization or regulation of properties located on rural land is not incorporated; no legal novelty is provided to solve out the problem resulting from the lack of control of Public Administrations regarding the use of land; this law only complicates even further the current situation of this issue.

 

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

 

NEW URBAN SCENE IN LA AXARQUIA

Complex urban planning in Andalucia: PGOU, LOUA & POT
Complex urban planning in Andalucia: PGOU, LOUA & POT

Due to the urban complexity that most of the municipalities of La Axarquía are immersed because of the Spanish local elections held in May, the changes in the local governments could mean changes in the way of managing each municipality and in the solutions that such local governments could propose in view of the complex urban development in this area.

We have to take into account that, nowadays, most of the municipalities are working in the production and approval of their new General Plans for Urban Zoning (PGOU) to adapt them to the Urban Zoning Code of La Axarquía (LOUA) and to the Plan for Town Planning in La Axarquía (POT), and so as to offer a final solution to all those housing developments built upon non-urban areas as well as to the thousands of isolated buildings within each municipality.

Apart from the several actions carried out by the town halls, it is worth mentioning the announcement made by the Junta de Andalucía about the approval of a Decree to legalize the large number of houses in La Axarquía. Besides, the Junta de Andalucía has made an inventory about houses built upon non-urban areas and which is being sent to each of the town halls so that they could know the situation of all those mentioned houses.

The PGOU is the main instrument in the planning of each municipality and it provides the characteristics and nature of the area that comprises such municipal district. So, it is very important that those owners with properties built upon non-urban areas, whether it is an isolated house or a house within a development, appear before the municipal offices as soon as possible, preferably with a specialized lawyer, in order to study the situation of the houses and the possibilities of legalizing them or declaring them houses out of regulation.

It is worth mentioning all those housing developments partly or totally built upon non-urban areas, but with different situations in their basic infrastructures (lighting, roads, sewer systems, water, etc). In those cases, it is necessary that each Community of Owners or, if it is not established, one of their representatives, enquires in the town hall about the situation of the housing development and its possible inclusion in the new PGOU.

If we take into account that it seems that possible mid-term solutions and measures may arrive, it is important that owners ask and take part in such “regularization” process that will be born within each town hall, so as their property or housing development could be part of this new plan, or in order to find a solution for each conflict or situation.

Obviously, regularizing each house will have a charge for the owners, depending on their situation, but we think it is a “minor wrong” if this situation of legal insecurity upon many rustic properties comes to an end.

Nowadays, our legal firm, which represents some clients that have houses or are part of a housing development built upon non-urban areas, has already started to deal with several town halls about the situation and regularization proposals of their properties. It is important that the owners are the ones who look for solutions with the town halls.

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)

Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

NEW STANCE ON DWELLINGS BUILT ON RUSTIC LAND IN LA AXARQUÍA

Legalizing process of rustic land Axarquía Málaga (houses without building license or with invalid building license)
Legalizing process of rustic land Axarquía Málaga (houses without building license or with invalid building license)

In la Axarquía, as well as in many municipalities in Málaga and Andalucía, there are at present thousands of properties which are built on land not designated for construction. These properties have been built without any building permit whatsoever and no responsibility may be claimed as the criminal or administrative actions that would have applied, have lapsed. We refer to thousands of dwellings which will remain built for many years, and their use and enjoy will never change.

From a logical point of view, and why not mention it, from an ecological one, the most coherent thing to do, in these cases, would be to try to legalise them. This would imply setting minimum requirements for them to follow, and providing the dwellings with infrastructures, such as sewage systems, that would avoid damaging their surroundings, since regardless of whether they are legalised or not, they will remain occupied.

Regarding dwellings built on land not designated for construction, but where a building permit has been granted (those permits may be challenged and declared null at any time), we do not see the point in bringing hundreds of administrative and contentious actions to declare them void. As proceedings will take endless time to be settled, and whereas eventually a few orders may be enforced, some demolition orders will never be put into effect. In addition, it will affect many homeowners who will claim pecuniary liability to the Local Council, and also, in my view, to the Junta de Andalucía (Andalusian Regional Government).

However, given the current situation of insolvency of the government institutions and their tendency to delay proceedings, it will be very difficult for the homeowners to obtain compensation.

As we stated in our October article Málaga, Axarquía and Urban Problems, this situation has been reached due to a total lack of interest on the part of the Local Councils and the Junta de Andalucía, in the exercise of their duties in the last years, even when they were totally aware of the said irregularities.

And apart from all these consequences, it should also be added, the damage that starting hundreds of legal proceedings, with subsequent demolitions, and owners claiming compensation, etc, can do on residential tourism, mainly foreign, creating, thus, a situation of complete legal uncertainty. This kind of tourism and the economy of the area would be affected and probably driven to the wall.

Therefore, the decision of the Junta to approve a Decree in the next six months to legalise this situation of urban chaos, considering the starting point of the situation, is the most logical and coherent stance to adopt. And we think the cost “can be assumed” by the homeowners affected, as, at the end of the day, it will be to their own benefit, to the benefit of the government institutions involved, and on the ecological interest of the area where they are situated, it will also lead to the economic progress of this area.

We will follow this issue with expectation over the coming months. In any case, considering the circumstances, this change of stance of the Junta de Andalucía is a good piece of news.

Anyway, as everyone knows, when elections approach anything can happen.

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)

Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

FIGURE OUT OF REGULATION AND CONSTRUCTION ON UNDEVELOPED LAND

Andalucian houses built out of regulation according to Town Hall´s urban law LOUA
Andalucian houses built out of regulation according to Town Hall´s urban law LOUA

Now that many municipalities in Málaga are approving their development plans in an attempt to regulate the urban chaos in relation to dwellings on undeveloped land, and to adapt those plans to the Law on Urban Planning of Andalusia (LOUA,) the obvious question is; what will happen to the irregular housing that cannot be legalized by the new urban plan adopted by each municipality?

A possible solution to these houses can be the designating them as homes “fuera de ordenación” (out of regulation), ie homes or buildings that do not satisfy the new municipality’s urban planning, therefore cannot be legalized, and it cannot be either asked any kind of responsibility to their owners or developers as any possible urban infraction has prescribed according to the LOUA or penal code, through the passage of over four years and five years respectively, since the buildings were finished.

Such classification of a property as “out of regulation” can be done by either the City Council or at the request of the owners, and entails certain limitations on the rights of the owners with respect to such property. Thus, the building can only undertake repairs work and maintenance for the strict conservation for the occupancy and use of such constructions, and such other works authorized under exceptional provisions of the Act. However, these properties can still be used by their owners, so that they can continue to enjoy their homes, do conservation work thereof and carry out any legal business on their property, acknowledging the existence of the above mentioned limitations in the property use and enjoyment but with the legal security that any legal liability can be required in the future because the housing has been declared by the City Council as out of regulation and, therefore, is now legally defined.

Given the numerous buildings that are not legalized in the Axarquia and over which there can not be imposed any liability, some municipalities are currently starting to open statement records of “out of regulation” in order to end up with this situation of legal uncertainty over these buildings that can not be legalized since they are located on undeveloped land according to the urban plan. The objective is also to give the owners legal protection letting them know what they can or cannot do on their properties but with the legal security that no responsibility will be claimed on them in the future regarding their properties. In fact our firm recently launched the first record of this type in one of the municipalities with more properties in this situation in La Axarquia, not having finished to this day.

According to the LOUA, the councils have the authority or power to define in their urban plans what can or can not be done on these out of regulation properties, so they can take this advantage of that power or authority to help solving the problem of all buildings that can not be legalized in the new general urban plan but over which there cannot be any imposed legal liability. Thus using their authority to help making this cataloging received positively among the affected property owners while helping to organize and regulate part of the chaos of the homes built on rural land, with the consequent benefit to the town Hall for new incomes and for the owners that will have legal security in their properties

Therefore, given the impossibility of legalizing the new urban plan on everything that has been built illegally, the legal definition of out of regulation may be of interest for the owner to give legal security to their property.

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)

Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

OCEAN VIEW PROPERTY, PROBABLY ANOTHER CASE OF PROPERTY FRAUD IN MALAGA

Property fraud Andalucia Spain
Property fraud Andalucia Spain

Last Monday, the 13th of December, I read an    article in the newspaper EL MUNDO in which they inform that about a hundred people from Northern Ireland were victims of a property fraud through the Ocean View Properties agency. It was supposed that the development company would build a housing estate in a plot located in Estepona (Malaga). Apparently fraud people made important payments on account of the purchase price in 2005 and 2006 for their future homes in Spain.

Concerning these off-plan property sales, directly from the developer (new property), apart from confirming whether the developer that sells is the owner of the buildable plot, and the relevant Town Hall has approved the urbanization project of this land, the buyer should request the immediate handing of the bank guarantee along with the interim payments that the buyer are going to carry, guaranteeing every payment for the building process until the granting of the purchase title deed. In this way, if the urbanization project may not be completed because of an administrative cause, because of the insolvency of the developer or any other cause non attributable to the buyer, then he can get back every payment made by enforcing this bank guarantee.

In this case, it is obvious that buyers and their solicitors did not require these bank guarantees to the developer. Now, the buyers should associate each other to force in the judicial proceedings, relying on a competent legal team that may advice them properly. It is essential to bring a lawsuit against them (civil action) or criminal charges (criminal action depending on whether it is considered a fraud or not) expeditiously so to call for the preventive seizure of all the goods that the developer may have, and all the administrators’ goods in any country, to study if the administrators have other companies opened so to attack all these goods.

When trying to get back money, the judicial proceedings is very long, so fraudsters or possible insolvents can hide or squander their patrimony and the trail of the money would be lost. The result of it may not guarantee the success.

Conclusion, if you are going to buy off-plan directly from the developer, make sure of who is the owner of the plot, of the urbanization project, and, specially, do not pay anything without receiving the corresponding bank guarantees for these interim payment until the granting of the purchase title deed. If you have signed a purchase private contract with a developer and you have not still the bank guarantees, it is time to require them, because the financial situation of the developer is complicated and, in short, you never know. Our advice is, if in doubt, you consult a solicitor in order him to analyze your situation.

 

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

 

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

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