Unless you went trendy when you bought in Spain and snapped up one of the famous bijou cave dwelling and now live in complete isolation with no electricity, water or communication with the outside world you will have heard that we have property problems here in Spain. Problems range from unfinished building sites and communal areas to illegal properties with the risk of demolition hanging over them.
One of the worst areas for the more serious problems is Andalucia. The government have released the figure of 300,000 illegal properties in the region and considering governments like to play down the not so tasteful aspects, we can probably add a few more to that figure.
It is a subject which for many years kept its head down and bubbled away under the surface. Sadly the housing boom put paid to its clandestine existence and it was rocketed to the front pages of the press both here and in the UK. Small production companies were looking for a new “angle” on Spain and we ended up with TV gems such as Holiday Homes from Hell. Informative and educational or choreographed terror tactics to keep the audience glued and coming back for more? Well I leave you to decide but the fact is that many people are living in properties which had no planning permission or completion certificate and which are built on land not designated for building. The jury is still firmly out on whether that situation can be rectified, how long it will take and who is going to pay for it. As for the culprits, are we dealing with organised crime and criminal intent or just a few sharp cookies who exploited the holes in the system?
Of course we are talking about the extremes here. Not all properties have major legal problems. Some people suffer from poor aftersales service when buying a new property, the door that never closes, the window that never opens. Life´s little hassles that are not going to cause you or your family any long term harm but can be a bugbear.
Well I guess about now you are saying “get on with it and tell us what we can do for free to sort things out”.
There are numerous options believe me. For the little niggles like the doors and windows. If it is a resale house then you need to note them and ask for a repair before you sign and pay for the house. Otherwise it will be difficult to get them sorted afterwards. Buying second hand really is “sold as seen” unless there is a substantial problem which the previous owner failed to tell you about. There are some things which are covered by your household insurance such as ceramic hobs which can be sorted out free of charge so always ask the insurer what you are covered for.
If you bought a new house, get a list of the problems to the constructor within 14 days of moving in and keep a copy. He is duty bound to put right any defects in a new home. If they do not show their ugly little heads – I mean the faults – not the builders – until you have been in the house a while. You will be relying on the 10 year guarantee to put them right so always ask about a guarantee before you sign and pay for the house.
For those of you who live in an apartment or group of houses with communal facilities, you will have a community to manage the communal areas so get to know the community President and the Administrator. The five minutes spent getting to know them can be a great investment for the future. Administrators are experts in property law so even if you do not think the problem is communal have a word with them for a bit of free advice. The President and Administrator will sort out not only problems with communal gardens and pools but anything which affects your property and could spread to other properties such as water leaks, cockroaches and mice which all come under their jurisdiction. So don’t always think you will have to deal with it alone or indeed pay for the whole problem. Some items are classed as community and the community will pay part or in some cases all of the costs.
The more serious problems such as illegal houses can be tackled in several ways. If you bought a property having been told that it was legal by the seller, agent, builder or solicitor and you find out that it is not then you can make a complaint to one of the many Oficianas Municipales de Informacion al Consumidor or Citizens Advice Offices. You will find your local office listed on the Website of the Ministerio de Sanidad y Politica Social. They can offer advice and mediation services. They can also escalate a complaint to the Junta Arbitral de Consumo who are an extrajudicial, free and efficient way of solving disputes.
You also have the right to make a denuncia (complaint) to the police as property fraud is a criminal activity. You can do this by phone in either Spanish or English 7 days a week, 24 hours a day by calling 902 102 112 or via the website at www.policia.es Alternatively, you can visit a National Police or Guardia Civil police station personally and make a denuncia there.
Moving right on up the complaints chain there is the Special Prosecutor´s Office for Corruption and Organised Crime. They co-ordinate various public prosecutors across Spain who deal with economic crime. The Public Prosecutor is Antonio Salinas Casado who can be contacted by email at the www.fiscal.es website or on 915717415 and if you believe that yours is not an isolated case then this man will certainly want to hear from you.
If the decision to buy in Spain swept over you while you were living in the UK, watching the rain fall and dreaming of sunnier climbs you can also seek advice and make a complaint to The European Consumer Centres Network. They were set up by the European Commission to give consumers advice on cross-border disputes. You can contact them at www.ukecc.net
On the other hand if you´ve had a really bad day, kicked a few inanimate objects and still don’t feel any better then you can contact the United Nations Special Rapporteur. There are two of them appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. Their remit is to advise and publicly report on human rights situations and violations world wide. They have the ability to write to governments asking them to comment on situations, to remind them of their obligations under international law and request information on the steps being taken by that government to sort out the situation. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Worrying about a problem has never been known to sort it but winning an argument and getting a result can do your moral and health a great deal of good not to mention your pocket so now you are armed with the various options, I leave you to do battle and may you be triumphant.