Tag: property

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)

 

The purchase of a property in Spain

ARE YOU THINKING OF BUYING A HOME IN SPAIN?

The purchase of a property in Spain
Buying a house in Spain or Andalucia?

When thinking about purchasing a property in a different country, there are many doubts and uncertainties that may arise.

We’ll try to give you the basic information you must take into account as well as a few tips.

WHAT ARE THE EXPENSES WHEN BUYING A HOME IN SPAIN?

The legal costs of a sale are usually around 10-12% of the purchase price for a secondhand home or 13-14% for a new home.

The highest cost is the tax on the purchase of properties: The property-transfer tax for secondhand homes –8% in Andalusia– or VAT at 10% plus document duties at 1.5% when purchasing a new home. Other costs to be taken into account are notarial fees and the Property Register.

The fees of the property agency are usually paid by the seller and included in the purchase price.

I ALREADY FOUND THE PROPERTY I WANT TO BUY. WHAT NOW?

Once you have selected a property, the agency will ask you to pay a deposit, usually around 5,000 euros, to remove the property from the market and provide enough time to sign a private sales contract where the seller will be paid 10% of the purchase price.

This holding document is usually a simple document that must include: the details of the sellers and buyers, the purchase price, the payment terms, the date of signing the private contract and the deed of sale.

For more information about the entire purchase process, click here or have a look at this video:

HIRING A LAWYER

If you’re thinking about spending a significant part of your savings on buying a home, it seems logical to hire a lawyer to advise you and make the sales process less stressful.

Beware of people who advise against hiring a lawyer to save costs or those who seek to provide legal advice and are not lawyers. If what you’re looking for is a lawyer, you can ask for a certificate accrediting his recognition and/or a professional liability insurance policy.

You should take into account that the average cost of a lawyer is around 1% of the purchase price plus VAT. Is it really worth saving 1% considering all the money you’ll be spending?

The lawyer you find should be independent and be very familiar with property law, being able to demonstrate some experience in this sector is always important. It may be helpful to review the public information available on the lawyer’s website as well as customers’ reviews.

WHICH DOCUMENTS SHOULD I HAVE IN MY POSSESSION?

The most important ones are:

  • “Nota Simple”, this is a short information of the property from the Property Register
  • Copy of the IBI or property tax for the home
  • Utility bills

If they also provide a copy of the licence or deed of the property, even better.

REGISTRATION IN THE PROPERTY REGISTER AND CADASTRE

The short information from the register – nota simple- and the cadastral reference appearing on the property tax bill can be used to verify that the property is duly registered in the property register and the cadastre, as well as that the persons selling it are its owners.

STRUCTURAL SURVEY?

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to have an architect visit the property and carry out certain checks, such as measuring the built area –this way you’ll know that the register and cadastre are accurate– and you’ll also get a professional opinion about the state of repair of the property.

Obviously, the architect will only be able to see defects that are apparent but at least you’ll be able to rule out certain flaws within the property.

URBAN PLANNING INFORMATION

If you’re going to buy a home on urban land, it is important that you ask the council if it has a licence for construction and first occupation licence. The licence of first occupation is requested from the council once construction work on the home is completed.

It is important to keep in mind that older homes –built before 1977– did not have a first occupation licence as this did not exist. It is also true that some recently built properties do not have that licence either for different reasons. Even though, in theory, the property cannot be occupied and used without that licence, this is actually possible and this is not necessarily an obstacle to buying the property.

Verify that the development where the home is located is free of debts towards the council and has been completed, in order to avoid paying additional costs in the future.

COUNTRYSIDE HOMES

If you’re going to buy a home on rural land, in this case the urban-planning situation is very different from the one explained for properties on urban land. The most important thing is to get information about when construction ended, whether the land has any type of special protection or if the council has started proceedings to re-establish lawfulness. In Andalusia, a regularization process has been created.

CHECK FOR POTENTIAL DEBTS WHEN BUYING A HOME IN SPAIN

With the information from the Property Register, the one received from the Council and the community of owners, you can see whether there is a debt on the property that could affect you as its new owner. This refers to debts such as a mortgage, liens, property taxes, community fees, etc.

If there are any debts, the best thing to do is to have the seller pay them before signing the Deed of Sale or withhold the amount of the debt from the seller so that you can pay it yourself.

DEED OF SALE AND YOU’RE THE NEW OWNER

For you to become the new owner of the property, you’ll have to sign a Public Deed of Sale before a Notary and pay the seller the rest of the price agreed, receiving the keys to the property.

Once you sign the deed, you need to start the process to record the home in your name in the register and cadastre, as well as pay all taxes.

After this, we hope you enjoy your new home.

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)

lawyer english speaking

ENERGY CERTIFICATE AND IBI PROPERTY TAX REDUCTION

energy performance certificate, IBI, propertyIn September, the Government of Spain, through a legislative amendment, opened the door for city governments to be able to offer a discount (reduction) in Property Taxes (IBI) from 1 January 2016.

This legislative amendment introduces the possibility of offering a reduction of 20%, 16%, 12%, 8% or 4% of the IBI of a property if its energy performance certificate shows a rating of A, B, C, D, or E, respectively.

Now that the central government has allowed for this modification of the IBI, it will now be up to each city government to decide whether they want to apply this discount.

This is so because Property Taxes are of a local nature. City governments are responsible for their management, as long as collection of this tax is carried out pursuant to the Law on Local Treasuries, which is the one amended by the central government to allow for this IBI discount.

That said, if you own a home in Spain and you want to know whether you can save on property taxes, I advise you to do the following:

  • Ask your city government whether it plans to apply this IBI discount from 1 January 2016. If the answer is NO, this settles the matter.
  • If your city government says YES to the previous question, look at the energy performance certificate of your home to find out its rating.

If you have purchased a home in Spain within the last 2 years, be aware that this certificate will be part of your deed of sale.

If you do not have an energy performance certificate, you may be interested in ordering one, so you can know the energy rating of your home and find out whether you can get an IBI discount to pay less every year.

Regarding the energy performance certificate, most properties “fail”, i.e. they have a very low rating. Without a doubt, it can be said that homes in Spain are not energy efficient.

If the rating in the energy performance certificate of your home is very low, do not panic since, unfortunately, this is normal. According to the information published by the idealista website at the beginning of this year, 95% of homes fail in energy efficiency.

In my opinion, this measure, introduced by the central government, is positive, as it is always good to “reward” homes that are better insulated and require lower energy use to be habitable. When they use less energy, they pollute less.

From a seller’s point of view, this certificate is seen as yet another expense and another bureaucratic hindrance to sell a property. But, if the certificate is completed well, it provides very valuable information to buyers, as they will know the energy efficiency of the home before buying it and will be able to make improvements in this sense.

Regarding the energy performance certificate, it should be said that it must be available when a home is on sale or up for rental (leases longer than 4 months) so that, from a buyer’s point of view, one can know the energy efficiency of a home from the moment one becomes interested in it.

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

accommodation in Andalusia

OWNING A BED & BREAKFAST (B&B) IN ANDALUSIA: DREAM OR REALITY?

Bed & Breakfast B&B Andalusia
Owning a Bed & Breakfast (B&B) in Andalusia

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.

BUSINESS LICENCES.

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)

 

HOME BUYERS ACTING IN GOOD FAITH, MORE PROTECTION IN THE CRIMINAL FIELD

Spanish home buyers acting in good faith
Spanish home buyers acting in good faith

Yesterday Thursday 26 March, the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament ratified the amendment to article 319 of the Spanish Penal Code, approved by the Senate last 12 March. A paragraph has been added to section 3, which reads:  “In any event, the Judges or Courts of Law may issue a reasoned order to demolish the works and restore the physical reality altered at the expense of the principal thereof, without prejudice to the compensations due to third parties in good faith, and, assessing the circumstances and after hearing the competent government body, shall temporarily subject the demolition to the constitution of guarantees that ensure their payment. In any case, the seizure of the earnings from the offence shall be available, regardless of the transformations that these may have undergone”.

This new regulation will be into force next 1st July.

Until now, in proceedings regarding an Offence against Town and Country Planning, the judgment ordered the demolition of what had been built illegally and compensation was set by way of civil liability for the developer, in favour of buyers acting in good faith. The problem is that, in most of these cases, collecting said compensation was very complicated since the developer was either insolvent or had disappeared. However, enforcement of the demolition was not stopped, for which reason we could find ourselves before an unfortunate scenario where a buyer acting in good faith and recognised in a judgment could have his home demolished without being effectively compensated.

From now on, in criminal proceedings for Offences against Town and Country Planning, the judge may stop the demolition of the home until due compensation to the third-party acting in good faith is guaranteed.

From the literal wording of the amendment introduced, it seems that the judge will be the one who, after assessing the specific situation in each case, will stop said demolition, for which reason I understand that it will be an essential requirement to prove that the buyer is really a third party acting in good faith.

Likewise, it seems interesting that, in assessing whether to stop the demolition, it is required for the competent Government Body, which I take to be the City Hall, to be heard in the proceedings. I suppose that, in these cases, the City Hall can provide relevant details leading to stopping the demolition. Also, since the City Hall is the one responsible for executing the demolition, it may argue on the suitability of stopping it until it can ensure compensation for the third party acting in good faith.

Lastly, this amendment refers to stopping the demolition temporarily, i.e., a specific period of time is not established but, in any case, it should not perpetuate over time. However, the concept of “temporarily” is very wide and it may be interpreted as sufficient time to guarantee compensation to buyers acting in good faith.

I can say, with full knowledge, that this amendment of the Penal Code has been possible mainly thanks to the work of two associations in Andalusia that have been working on protecting buyers acting in good faith for several years: SOHA and AUAN, especially noting the great work done by Gerardo Vázquez, a colleague of mine, attorney and legal adviser at AUAN. The efforts of these organisations and their mobilisation have made this amendment possible.

The aforementioned organisations, along with many others that have been created, are justified by the great problem faced in Andalusia, which has 300,000 homes built in non-developable land (NDL). On the Andalusian coast, due to foreign residential tourism, many buyers are foreigners and this has led these owners, facing the legal problems with these homes, to move to defend their interests, to strengthen and to tell authorities about the existing situation.

The main problem, at least in Andalusia, has been the complete inactivity and inefficiency of Urban Planning in Andalusia, which has led to a failure in regulating non-developable land in Andalusia and to the existence of many homes built on non-developable land.

Regulations with very fixed and strict criteria governing construction on non-developable land were approved. However, Autonomic and Local Governments have completely neglected to provide the necessary oversight to enforce these regulations.

From the beginning of the years of the housing bubble, the competent government bodies have shown no predisposition to initiate and solve disciplinary procedures against offenders, with all the legal consequences that this entails, such as demolishing what has been illegally built. The governing party in City Hall should have assumed the “feared” political price that these unpopular measures may have entailed.

Most of these buildings have everything: registered deed, pay IBI (Property Tax), are registered in the Property Register, have electricity and water, and have paid autonomic taxes such as ITP (Tax on Asset Transfer) and AJD (Stamp Duty).

Many of the properties have changed owners, meaning that the person responsible for construction is no longer the owner of the home. When these properties enter legal proceedings, third parties acting in good faith appear, affected by this situation that the Local and Autonomic Governments, with full knowledge, have allowed due to their complete inaction in the field of Urban Planning.

The regulations provided in the Urban Planning Law of Andalusia (LOUA) to govern the very strict use of non-developable land were based on environmental protection and on maintaining the rural value of a large portion of the Andalusian territory so as to preserve this environment and its values.

However, its lack of application due to a lack of real and effective control of what was being done on non-developable land has given rise to the failure of regulations on the use of non-developable land provided in the LOUA.

In reality, this has resulted in large rural areas becoming full of unregulated buildings, achieving the opposite effect, as the lack of protection of the rural environment is clear in these cases.

In practice, a total lack of protection of rural land has occurred in some areas under greater urban pressure, where, without controls or any type of criteria regarding what was being built at the architectural level, construction has been allowed, of palaces, warehouses, terraced houses, one-storey homes, towers and everything in between. There has also been no control of the necessary infrastructure or facilities for these homes to be used: discharge of sewage, illegal wells to obtain water, etc. Furthermore, many of these homes did not pay local building taxes, as the majority were not eligible to obtain a licence under the LOUA.

However, as we explained in a previous post, it should be noted that, in some cases, the licenses for segregation, building and initial occupancy were indeed granted for some of these homes. The fact that the Government is responsible in these cases is more than obvious and the damages suffered by owners, who purchased the homes in good faith, are completely reprehensible.

This situation of deregulation of non-developable land has an undesirable effect on citizens, as there is a feeling that there are citizens who ignore the law and go unpunished and that there are others who are required to comply with it.

If the urban planning disciplinary proceedings had been started quickly and efficiently at the beginning of that frenzied period of real estate development on non-developable land, the message that citizens would have received would have been very clear and many buildings would not have been built. There would still be homes on non-developable land but the magnitude of the problem would be quite different.

Faced with this situation, the legal response to solve this problem should be consistent with the reality that exists and that has been tolerated by the Government itself for so many years. This is why the necessary legislative reforms in this area must be tackled rigorously and without propaganda messages, avoiding a focus on the debate on “amnesty for everyone” or “offenders must pay” because the situation is much more complex.

In the administrative field, the majority of these homes should be regularised as, in many cases, penalties for using land illegally would have expired and many of the developers-builders are not the current owners.

In the future, there should be a debate regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of Urban Planning under current regulations, as well as regarding whether the regulation of non-developable land in the LOUA is adequate for the purpose it intends to fulfil.

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

SPANISH PUBLIC TAX ADMINISTRATION REVIEWS PROPERTY TRANSFER VALUES

SPANISH PUBLIC TAX ADMINISTRATION REVIEWS PROPERTY TRANSFER VALUES

Spanish Tax Administration reviews property value
Spanish Tax Administration reviews property value

In the last few years, property market prices have dropped in Spain and the cases in which the National or Regional Tax Administration has reviewed declared values for property transfers have increased, whether for conveyance, inheritance or gifts; that is, you may sell your property for a certain and determined price, but the Regional or National Tax Administration may review that value after the sale and for tax purposes; then, it may consider that the real value of this sold property is higher than the one declared on the deed of sale, and therefore, the buyer shall pay the Transfer tax (ITP) on property transfer on the basis of the new value, which has been reviewed by the Regional Tax Administration, although the buyer had bought it for a lower price. In addition, the seller may have to declare capital gains higher than those actually obtained as a result of the review carried out by the National Tax Administration.

The abovementioned situation is legal and possible pursuant to Article 57 of Spanish general taxation law, in which it is provided that the Public Administration may check the property values by using different means.

Regarding urban properties, the Regional Tax Administraions and the Andalusian Regional Government are often supported on the grounds of an Order that is yearly approved to calculate the taxable minimum value of urban properties in this regard. As a result of this, it is possible to calculate this taxable minimum value from applying a rate provided by this Order to the details contained in the real estate tax IBI receipt (council tax). Then, you can know in advance whether the Tax Administration may claim more taxes or not when transferring your property.

Regarding rural real estate or properties with special characteristics, the matter becomes increasingly complicated, since Public Administrations may not always proceed by applying the aforementioned values and sometimes they are supported on the grounds of an expert report drawn up by technical personnel of the Tax Administration, which justifies the proven value of this rural or special property; for example, currently it is very common that the reviewed value for this type of properties is determined according to the estimated average values of construction, which are yearly publish by the Professional Association of Architects of Malaga. These values are indexed in a table containing the construction value per built square metre pursuant to the construction type and its features.

In the last year, as a result of this significant increase of value reviews by the Andalusian Tax Administration and, to a lesser degree, the National Government, our law firm always carries out an estimation of the taxable minimum value for tax purposes when advising our clients about property conveyance issues. Thus, they are warned of the possibility that their property value may be reviewed and the possible extra cost which may arise from this review. This is aimed at preparing our clients for this unpleasant surprise.

In general terms, the Andalusian Regional Tax Administration currently collects every single Euro from value reviews of property conveyances, so that if the taxable minimum value is higher than the conveyance actual value, it is quite normal that the Regional Government notifies you after a few months claiming the payment of the ITP tax on property transfer, stamp duty tax or gift and inheritance tax for the excess value reviewed.

The National Tax Administration, which is the competent body for capital gains collection of property sales, is not as determined as the Regional Tax Administration is when reviewing values. However, in those cases that the seller is not a tax resident and no capital gains has been obtained for the sale, when the 3 % withheld by the buyer is requested to be returned, the National Tax Administration does not hesitate to review the taxable minimum value of that property, so that the 3 % withheld is not returned in full to the seller. Furthermore, as a result of the reviewed taxable value, the seller may also have to pay the Tax Administration for capital gains tax, although no real gains had been obtained from the sale.

Obviously, there are grounds to challenge the property revaluations before the Public Tax Administration; however, in order to know if it is worthy to challenge it, it is important to examine and analyze each particular case in detail and determine if the reviewed value is properly justified before going ahead with the recourse.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning the possibility to file with the Tax Administration, prior to the property transfer, a binding report to obtain from the Tax Office the taxable value of this property. In some cases, it may be advisable to request this report, which commits the Tax Administration to respect it, although the value on this report will also oblige us for tax purposes.

 

 

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

 

RECENT CONTROVERSIAL DEMOLITION OF TWO PROPERTIES

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)

 

 

 

MORTGAGES: THE WELL-KNOWN ECJ RULING ON THURSDAY 14TH OF MARCH

MORTGAGES: THE WELL-KNOWN ECJ RULING ON THURSDAY 14TH OF MARCH

HIPOTECA 2
European vs Spanish legal protection for consumers with mortgages

About a month ago, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling caused a great stir among Spanish media. This court judgment has been originated from a preliminary ruling handed down by the Mercantil Court nº 3 of Barcelona, as a result of the mortgage foreclosure procedure between an individual and La Caixa Bank. This preliminary ruling intends to clarify if Spanish legislation complies with the consumer protection requirements regulated by the European Directive 93/13/ECC. This Directive was approved to ensure consumers’ protection against their disadvantageous position with respect to a professional when contracting certain services.

In short, here below are the facts intended to be disclosed before the ECJ:

First: In regard of Spanish civil procedure in the matter of mortgage foreclosures, it was intended to be disclosed if Spanish regulations fail to comply with the aforementioned European Directive protecting consumers, because in Spain the “judgment debtor” cannot claim the existence of unfair terms set forth in this contract. In Spain, if judgment debtors want to claim the existence of unfair terms in this type of contracts, they should initiate different court proceedings which may not paralyse the mortgage foreclosure proceedings; for example, a situation may arise where a property is auctioned due to the unpaid mortgage and the judgment debtor may also obtain a favourable court decision declaring that the contract of that mortgage is null and void once that the property has been auctioned. This may arise because the mortgage foreclosure cannot be paralysed despite the contract may be considered to be null and void.

Second: regarding the substance of the matter, the concept of “unfair term” of the Directive is intended to be clarified in order to assess if the terms of the mortgage contract—subject matter of the main action and undersigned between an individual and a bank, are of unfair nature; these terms are the following: early termination of long-term contracts, fixing of default interests and the liquidity agreement. These are “cut and paste” terms (similar terms) appearing in any mortgage contract which anybody may have executed with a bank.

Regarding the first issue, the ECJ is clear and unambiguous declaring that the Spanish procedural regime reduces the effectiveness of the protection pursued by the Directive, because:

a) Possible unfair terms of the main contract cannot be challenged in the same mortgage foreclosure proceedings which may finish with the property put up for auction.

b)  Mortgage foreclosure proceedings cannot be paralysed by the courts, although they know that the judgment debtor has filed court actions challenging possible unfair terms.

It is worth mentioning that by virtue of a repeated European case-law, the national court is obliged to consider of its own motion the unfairness of all contractual terms under this Directive.

Regarding the second issue, the ECJ answer is not very revealing, or at least automatically, in order to know whether a term is unfair or not, as the ECJ considers that the national court is the only competent body to interpret and apply the national Law. However, the court ruling states that to decide if a term causes an imbalance to the detriment of the consumer in relation to bank—national regulations must be taken into account if that agreement is not signed between the parties, the court shall assess if this term leaves the consumer in a less favourable situation than this provided by the national Law in force in case this term exists. For example, if the term fixing the default interest in the mortgage contract (normally around 20%) is an exception and there is no other similar legal interest in national Law (i.e. default interest applicable to commercial transactions is at 7.75%), then this term may be considered to be unfair; an open-and-shut case, judge for yourself.

Finally and regarding ongoing and future mortgage foreclosures in Spain, it is worth mentioning that two rulings have been already issued in the last three weeks declaring mortgage contracts to be null and void, because default interests were unfair.

 

 

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

 

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

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

Legal risks rural house Spain fire
Legal risks rural house Spain fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Government of Andalusia increases many taxes

Government of Andalusia increases many taxes

Increase AJD stamp duty tax Andalucia
Increase AJD stamp duty tax Andalucia

I would like to update you about some new measures carried out by the Junta de Andalucía, containing many reforms in the different existing taxes (not exactly to re-boost the current market situation…).

Concerning those interesting, we will focus on the Stamp Duty (A.J.D.), a tax applied to those public acts formalized on public documents to be registered in the different Public Registry offices with an economic amount (e.g. new property sales, new building declarations, or a mortgage deeds, among any others).

So, last week, the 19th of June, the Junta of Andalucía approved the new Decree-Law 1/2012, of 19th of June, which contains a series of tax, administrative and labor measures, published in the B.O.J.A. (Official Journal of the Government of Andalusia) last 22th of June 2012. You can find it by clicking: http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/eboja/2012/122/BOJA12-122-00014-11216-01_00009593.pdf

Within these measures, regarding the tax ones, we can find an increase of the general rate on the Stamp Duty, going from 1.2% to 1.5% of the declared value.

 

 

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

 

 

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