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The Spanish Lawyer Online

Antonio Flores’ Blog

Thoughts about laws and regulations which affect foreigners in Spain

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Archive for the ‘Property’ Category

Taxes on Selling Off-Plan Properties in Spain

April 10th, 2017

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Off-plan property resales have been hard to come by since the days of the real estate boom; in fact, they have been all but absent. But with the property market finally rising from the ashes of the devastating real estate crash and new build properties being gradually offered to the public -and fast snapped up by speculators and consumers alike-, many off-plan buyers are finding that there is now a market to sell on their contracts before they get the keys to the properties.

What are their options from a legal and tax viewpoint? There are two methods to transfer the property rights (if should be noted that both methods will require the consent of the developer):

  • Method 1: The current buyer terminates the contract with the property developer who will refund the deposit paid and, simultaneously, will sign a new a fresh new off-plan contract with the new buyer. Any profit or premium will be settled between the parties although, almost always, the developer will demand just compensation -often times called commission- for consenting to the deal. This method would avoid -and evade- taxes as it is not obvious that a resale has taken place. However, property developers have been in the past investigated for these practices and can be made joint and severally liable for non-payment of taxes, for which reason this solution is not very popular.
  • Method 2: The current and the new buyer exchange contracts for the sale of the off-plan property, pay the relevant purchase transfer tax and inform the property developer. The latter party will then either draw up new contracts with the new buyer or just wait until completion, when they will transfer title to the new buyer. From a tax viewpoint, an off-plan sale will attract a heft enough 10% VAT plus 1.5% Stamp Duty for the buyer when he/she completes on the sale. But if a new buyer comes in, he/she will have to pay, in addition, Transfer Tax (8% minimum in Andalusia) on the assessed value of the under-construction off-plan unit, or the value of the premium, whichever the highest. For its part, the vendor will have capital gains tax (19%) on the net profit (the premium minus any commissions paid) although few choose to pay it.

Clearly, buying an off-plan unit can place excessive costs on the new buyer, making it a prohibitive proposal. It is suggested that prior to offering this to a prospective purchaser, real estate agents lay out the total costs (VAT & Stamp Duty, Transfer Tax, CGT, theirs and the developer’s commission) and where necessary, make a more evenly distribution.

Property , ,

Are Powers of Attorney granted by UK Notaries Public Valid in Spain?

December 5th, 2016

The effects of Brexit appear to have reached some Spanish government offices, shutterstock_450860425
inclusive of Courts of law. The Directorate General of Registrars and Notaries (DGRN), a regulatory body equivalent to the UK Notaries Society, has recently issued a startling ruling (14 Sept. 2016) rejecting the validity of all Powers of Attorney (PoA) granted by a qualified United Kingdom “Notary Public”, on grounds that the authority and competence of these British professionals is not equivalent to that of their Spanish peers.

The ruling went as far as unbelievably stating that only UK-qualified “notaries-at-law” or “lawyer notaries” could validly issue powers of attorney, negating this prerogative to plain “notaries public”.

As was expected and with immediate effect, the erratic decision sent shock waves throughout the network of thousands of professionals, directly or indirectly, involved with expat legal work. And for a reason: hundreds of Court cases could be dismissed (one of Lawbird Legal Services’ case among many), thousands of property transactions could be voided (on the upside, along with their mortgage loans) whenever such PoAs were used and overall, legal chaos.

Alerted by this misguided ruling, the Notaries Society, based in Ipswich, issued the following statement:

  1. A Notary is a qualified lawyer whose work is recognized internationally, unlike the work of Solicitors. The primary function of a Notary therefore, is the preparation of documents and the authentication of clients’ identities and signatures principally for use abroad.
  2. Some Notaries are also “Scriveners”, who mostly operate in London.
  3. “Notaries-at-law” or “lawyer notaries” do not exist as a separate profession.

Hundreds of Spanish Notaries and Registrars, fully aware that their regulator´s historical cock up would certain bring embarrassment to their reputation but more importantly, cause incalculable financial damage, have taken an unusual step: completely ignore this binding ruling and fully accept the Powers of Attorney correctly granted by UK Notaries Public.

And as if to soften the blow, the International Law Registrars Council has issued a non-binding report where it is confirmed that documents signed by UK Notaries Public, who are appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and are regulated by laws as ancient as the Ecclesiastical Licenses Act 1533, an Act of the Parliament of England.

Legal Practise, Property , , , , ,

Jail Terms for Dishonest Real Estate Agents

October 18th, 2016

Tshutterstock_105509726wo Court rulings have each confirmed that real estate agents should serve a minimum of 2 years in prison for defrauding both buyers and sellers in at least two property deals. The punishment meted out to these professionals relates to the dishonest -albeit not common- habit of structuring their commission payment, in addition to what % they formally agree on with either party, on the difference between what the buyer pays and what the seller receives…without telling either party what these amounts were.

The Courts, on finding the estate agents guilty on counts of criminal fraud, concluded the following:

  • Both buyer and seller were unaware of the real terms of the deal, having the estate agent effectively obtained the consent of both parties on different prices to those reciprocally agreed with either party, causing loss to both.
  • The dual agreements are not a reflection of the real facts, the price for the buyer and the vendor are different and the “agreed commission” is not real, as it was jacked up.
  • The “buyer’s price” was not the lowest he could get away with and the “seller’s price” was not the highest the property could achieve, owing to an artificial and fabricated deal.
  • The Court refutes the defense allegation that the real estate bought and then sold the property, at a profit, on grounds that it is improper conduct for real estate brokers to act in such manner, in addition to concealing the true nature of the deal to its customers.
  • The Court neither accepts that both buyer and seller were satisfied at the time with the terms of the agreed transaction: they probably were as they did not know otherwise, owing to the disinformation and deception devised by the agent.
  • There is an aggravating circumstance in that the real estate agents, operating via an establishment opened to the public, added further credibility to their actions and facilitated the removal of objections by buyer and seller.

Similar behaviours as those described are known to have happened in the Costa del Sol but the likelihood of them resurfacing, considering that approximately 95% of all transactions included 2 real estate agents, is mostly residual.

Property, Scams , , , ,

Communities of Owners: what’s the official language of an AGM (Annual General Meeting)?

July 28th, 2016

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This matter was raised in Court on at least four occasions and interesting rulings resolved the matter, albeit in different directions.

In La Manga (Murcia), a Community of owners was made up of 150 owners of which only 2 were Spanish. An AGM was conducted and approved in English, with the benefit of a translator for the 2 Spanish owners.

Not happy with the extensive use of Shakespeare’s language, the two Spaniards challenged the ruling in Court stating that Spanish was the official language of the country and hence, it should have prevailed. The Court of First Instance dismissed the ruling on the basis that a) the governing law on communities of owners had no particular norm on the matter and that b) the Spanish owners had had the benefit of a translator.

The Appeal Court, surprisingly, revoked the prior ruling stating that the Horizontal Property Act came under article 3.1 of the Constitution and, citing national sovereignty, concluded that the language of choice for the AGM should be prima facie Spanish, and thereafter as many translators as required by the different nationalities present at the meeting, at the Community’s expense.

Not content with the outcome, the dispute was escalated to the Supreme Court who overturned the ruling on grounds that the Appeal Court had wrongly understood the application of article 3.1 of the Constitution, which does not apply to juridical agreements conducted privately. The Supreme Court stated that “national sovereignty” has nothing to do with AGMs. Furthermore, it held that as the Horizontal Property Act does not specify the language of meetings, these can be conducted in any [language] so long as translators are available. Clearly, the Supreme Court recognized the multicultural nature of many AGMs along the Spanish Costas and rejected being influenced by notions of antiquated patriotism.

Down south, Malaga Appeal Court ruled that using English language in an AGM had not infringed any rights as the minutes were also in Spanish and at all times, a translator had been fully available.

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Want to Succeed in Selling Property in Spain? Measure Up!

June 17th, 2016

With the Costa del Sol property market on the rebound, many owners have now chosen to maximize the return on their bricks and mortar investments and are actively listing their properties with –literally- hundreds of new (and old) real estate agencies.shutterstock_282672608

The sequence is pretty well known: an owner approaches a real estate agency who, upon basic verification of the property paperwork, lists the property for a convened asking price.

Unfortunately but predictably, the long list of requirements set out in the famous Decree 218/2005 (necessary to put a property up for sale) is rarely met. Generally though, the information provided tends to satisfy all parties and safeguards agencies in case of unwanted inspectors turning up.

But what the Decree 218/2005 did not envisage is how to deal properties that are partly or insufficiently recorded with the land registry, a legal contingency that’s causing many deals to collapse where searches reveal those discrepancies.

In our experience, we have noted that many proprietors of detached dwellings, and occasionally town houses and semidetached units, actually own more square meters than they officially declare. In other words, there is an excess of built area which may not always be legal.

This may be due to unregistered extensions, guest houses, conservatories, porches, barbecues, terraces, walls, basements or pools, all of which have to be `normalized´ if one wishes to avoid losing a potential sale.

Currently, there are two possible scenarios: that the excess built area complies with existing regulations or that it does not. To find out, we always suggest hiring an architect or surveyor to measure up the property and compare it with the legal documentation and applicable laws and regulations. This way a vendor will be able to rectify potential inconsistencies that buyers will –nowadays- invariably detect, and object to, when carrying out searches.

Legalizing those improvements, extensions or alterations is then a matter of local laws and passing of time. If they conform to local (at times regional) laws, a retrospective planning application will suffice. But if they don’t and yet 6 years have passed since the erection of the offending construction, statute of limitations will make it immune to legal action, under certain circumstances.

The latter is case is known as they AFO (Asimilado a Fuera de Ordenacion), which is a legal term to designate those properties that while illegal, are tolerated by the Government because you can…legalize them.

More on AFO on our next column!

Property , , , ,

New Andalusia Rental Law: Compliance and Fines

February 25th, 2016

Regional and local press has extensively covered the enactment of the new rules governing rented accommodation. The rules, under the title Decreto 28/2016, de 2 de febrero, de las viviendas con fines turísticos y de modificación del Decreto 194/2010, de 20 de abril, de establecimientos de apartamentos turísticos, has failed to elaborate on two important aspects: what does compliance really entail and what are the fines for non-compliance?

  1. In respect to compliance, the rules obliges owners to offer clients –among other requirements- the following: license of occupancy, rooms with adequate ventilation and darkening devices (shutters or similar), sufficient furniture and necessary appliances, touristic information whether in hard copy or electronic, of data for the area (bus schedules, close-by parking facilities, medical facilities in the vicinity and a plan of the town), complaint form, first aid kit, bed linen, cutlery and crockery adequate to the size and requirements of the property (and a replacement set for each). As if not enough, the law says owners will have to have a telephone number available to tenants where they can call to resolve any incidences, an instruction manual for kitchen appliances, details of the use of communal facilities and property equipment, as well as details on access of pets to the property and information on potential restriction for smokers and a few other requirements.But whilst some of the above are clear, the meaning of ambiguous words such as “adequate”, “sufficient” and “necessary” can widely differ depending on who you ask. Attending these grey areas is a pressing requirement.
  2. The fine system is also not clear. The 2016 Act refers to a 2011 Rural Accommodation Act for elucidation of what fines are applicable. Some scaremongers have enjoyed spreading the belief that if you do not register, you will be fined up to 150,000 Euros. The reality is that failing to register their properties can “only” be fined between 2,000 and 18,000 Euros, the heavier monster fine of “up to 150k” being reserved for other contraventions i.e. unlawful discrimination or obstructing inspectors on duty.

Interestingly, the Act does not address the fines for failing to comply with one or more elements within the the long list on point a), for instance: missing spoons, dirty linen or insufficient first aid kit.

The experience in Catalunya and the Balearics regions, where similar rules apply, shows us that lack of registration is attracting the vast majority of fines, with little or no precedent in respect to the degree or correctness of compliance.

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Madrid Courts Rule in Favour of British Investors Against Spanish Banks

January 29th, 2016

shutterstockSpanishPropertyDevelopmentBanco Popular, BBVA, Banco Mare Nostrum and Valencian Building Society S.G.R. have been ordered to pay over 2 million Euros, plus interest, to 40 British investors represented by Lawbird Legal Services.

The rulings were received on the same day and refer to investors who had paid large deposits on off-plan properties in El Pinet, in Alicante, and Costa Palatinum, in Murcia.

Court number 1 in Madrid wrote the following arguments on deciding the outcome:Banco Popular had issued two bank guarantees, one for 19 mm Euros and a further one for 4.4 mm Euros.

  • S.G.R. had too issued a guarantee for 5 mm Euros.
  • Banco Pastor had offered the developer a counter-bank guarantee which, according to the Judge, amounted to a collective policy to insure off-pan deposits.

For its part, the Appeal Court in Madrid (Section 25) held, in support of the investors, that:

  • A recent Supreme Court ruling had concluded that for the 57/1968 Act to apply, the off-plan property should be used for family living accommodation purposes, whether temporary, accidental or circumstantial. This includes “touristic apartments” as they are to be used by the owners as holiday homes, irrespective of their use as an investment for the most part of the year.
  • The developer had voluntarily submitted to the 57/1968 Act by producing a general bank guarantee that specifically referred to the Act.
  • Off-plan property buyers in Spain have an “inalienable right” to have their off-plan deposit underwritten, rights that cannot be waived by banks who, having issued a collective insurance cover failed however to grant individual policies to buyers.

 Banks have been ordered to pay the Courts the designated amounts, or face enforcement proceedings.

Both rulings are available to readers who so request a copy (less information deemed confidential at Lawbird’s discretion).

Litigation, Property , , , ,

Tenancy Agreements in Spain: the 11-month property rental contract

January 20th, 2016

This title of this post infers the existence of a type of residential rental contract that lasts for 11 months, no more but no less. And to a certain extent, if you had just landed in certain parts of Spain and you’d met up with property professionals (real estate agents mostly) there would be no reason to not believe that an 11-month contract –short term or holiday rental- is distinct from a 1-year plus contract –long term-.

At the same time, there appears to be an informal network of non-legal practitioners who are routinely consulted by people with legal problems and have, by reiteration, created parallel pseudo laws (and even case law) that, quite simply, do not exist in real life. And the 11-month contract is one ‘legislative’ creation of these “Costa” lawmakers as it does not exist as a standalone contract type. 

The following bullet points will help understand the current situation with urban rental contracts:

  • There are only 2 types of urban rental contracts: residential rental contracts and non-residential rental contracts (which includes short term/holiday lets, commercial, etc.).
  • Duration of residential rental contracts can be freely agreed between the parties. If the agreed term is below 3 years, the contract will be automatically extended on expiration of contract term unless the tenant submits notice of termination of contract with at least 30 days.
  • The above rule is mandatory and cannot be waived by the parties by private agreement.
  • Many residential rental contracts are disguised as short term, and consequently many short term contracts will be treated as residential by the Courts.
  • The Spanish Supreme Court has stated that irrespective of the name given to the contract or the term agreed by the parties, if the tenant had a requirement for a habitual and family domicile to take care of his/her permanent and essential needs (and that of the family), the contract will be deemed residential and therefore the 3-year rule will apply.

Likewise, the short-term nature of the contract refers to not the duration but to the reason and purpose of occupation of the property, it being determined by its brevity.

Means to prove that a short term contract is in reality a residential one are, for example, the tenant(s) having a job wherever he/she lives or running a company, children’s school enrollment, registration with the Town Hall (‘empadronamiento’) etc.

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Horizontal Property Act: Bribery in Spanish Communities of Owners

November 11th, 2015

Unbeknownst to most property owners, management of “communities of owners” in Spain has become a source of real corruption.

According to consumers’ organizations, 30% of managers of communities of owners –whether professional administrators or “presidents”- are demanding commissions of between 5%-10% from contractors and supplier companies serving these communities. Where the communities have expensive-to-run or higher maintenance facilities such as gardens, pools or security requirements, providers have larger margins to play with.

Corrupt professional administrators that engage in these practices will demand -or expect to receive- a kickback for awarding contracts, but in a rather discreet elegant manner. After all, they are professionals that get paid for their services and need to dissimulate spurious activities, which are seldom expected of them.

Corrupt presidents on the contrary don’t get paid to their jobs. They become unusually keen on governing the community, will typically behave with crass insensitivity towards ‘dissident’ owners and show despotic manners at AGMs. Often, they will weave a web of friends that are nothing but naive or uninvolved neighbours who, through ignorance, will lend them support by giving out proxies for up and coming community meetings, thus perpetuating the fraud.

These communities are generally teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

The Spanish Criminal Code can deal with these individuals, if they are uncovered. This is what article 286 states under the title “Corruption between private individuals”:

Whoever, personally or through an intermediary, promises, offers or grants executives, directors, employees or collaborators of a trading company or any other firm, partnership, foundation or organization an unfair benefit or advantage of any nature, in order for the to favour him or a third party against others, breaching their obligations in acquisition or sale of goods or in hiring of professional services, shall be punished with a sentence of imprisonment of six months to four years, special barring from practice of industry or commerce for a term from one to six years and a fine of up to three times the value of the value of the profit or advantage obtained.

But where they are not uncovered, there is only one solution: naive and uninvolved neighbours have to wise up and get involved, whether they live in these complexes permanently or occasionally, replace these corrupt presidents or administrators and establish transparent practices for every provider bidding process (sealed bidding being the fairest and most secure).

Property , , , , ,

Can Presidents of Communities of Owners receive Remuneration?

April 6th, 2015

PROPERTY owners are filing increasing numbers of complaints about presidents of the comunidad de propietarios (community of owners) in their buildings.

Abuses of power, passiveness, overstepping legal boundaries, refusal to call annual general meetings and to sanction budgets, unauthorised maintenance and using community funds without approval are common grievances.

Considering that this is technically a non-remunerated post, this may sound like unnecessary aggravation for the presidents. However, could it be that some community presidents are being paid salaries or taking backhanders, and as result, acting like a toxic workplace bosses?

We shall leave the second scenario for now – as it is difficult to prove – and address the main question: are presidents of communities of owners entitled to remuneration?

The Horizontal Property Act is mute on this point as it neither endorses or bans it. Caselaw on the contrary is more specific, giving the following clues:

The Appeal Courts of Malaga, the Balearics and Tenerife have declared that presidents cannot have a fixed remuneration although

they may be compensated for the costs and trouble inherent to carrying out the job of President.

The Appeal Court in Las Palmas holds a contradictory case where statutes specifically state: “

the President of a specific Community will not generate remuneration,

adding however

this prohibition is not incompatible with covering representation expenses, more or less modest, against submission of receipts or invoices for the most relevant expenses.

The appeal court in Granada is more restrictive and states:

while prima facie the job of President is pro bono, such a mandate is not incompatible with receiving consideration by the community.

In this case, an AGM resolution where the president was exonerated of paying his monthly fee was deemed void because it

altered the coefficients of ownership within the community of owners … and a professionally remunerated administrator can do this job.

On the contrary, the Appeal Court in Barcelona is adamant about the validity of the prohibition since the Catalan Civil Code specifically envisages the unpaid nature of this job.

Regarding the required quorum in an AGM (or EGM), most courts consider that a resolution to grant a regular remuneration requires unanimous consent, if it goes against the statutes or articles (because they stipulate that it is an unpaid job), whereas a resolution to simply cover representation expenses can be decided by a majority of votes, irrespective of what the statutes or articles state.

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