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The Spanish Lawyer Online

Antonio Flores’ Blog

Thoughts about laws and regulations which affect foreigners in Spain


Archive for February, 2010

Expat Legal-Gossip Gathering Pace (Part 1)

February 27th, 2010

Stempel BullshitViewers of this post may initially be lost with the title of it, but will soon know what I am writing about. As we say in Spain, there is a lawyer and a doctor in each family, even if no member of it has finished high-school, given the abundance of advice you tend to get from some family members when you have abdominal pain or you are about to sign a rental agreement with a tenant.

In the Costa del Sol, and definitely in the rest of Costas, many foreign individuals seek advice for legal issues, but they use neither traditional legal advisers nor less formal legal sources. Instead, in the majority of cases (reportedly three quarters!) they obtain advice from family and friends, and from a broad range of non-legal professionals, including professionals working in many other fields who are known to the information seeker. They also have the habit of roaming through expat forums with the hope of getting the answer they wish to listen, and which rarely conforms to reality (unfortunately). Thus, there appears to be an informal network of non-legal practitioners who are routinely consulted by people with legal problems and who have created a parallel case law which is simply wrong.

You will know what I am writing about when you read some the beliefs spread in our Costas during years of pseudo-legalese innuendo, hearsay and gossip in bars and pubs, “chiringuitos”, Christmas Dos and other socializing events appropriately lubricated with abundant booze. Lets start with a few:

Spanish Wills & Inheritance

  1. Die without a will and the Spanish Government will snap up everything: this is a classic I must have clarified at least 999 times. NO, Spanish law does not say this, it says that if you die without a will then you die intestate, in which case your personal national law applies, and only if no inheritors turn up will the Spanish Government ultimately claim ownership (someone has to!). As an example, according to Hubert Bocken and Walter de Bondt (Introduction to Belgian Law) most Belgian married people with children die intestate and therefore Belgian rules will apply, with usufruct rights passing to the heirs. This will happen too to any Spanish property or asset owned by a Belgian national because his/her law says so.
  2. My English will is not valid in Spain: it is perfectly valid but it needs to be translated, legalized and the authorship confirmed by the Spanish Courts. Of course, it better include Spanish or worldwide assets because otherwise it has not relevance. The best option in this case is to obtain grant of probate by the Courts that can then be legalized and translated for its use in Spain.

Spanish Rental agreements

  1. My tenant is not paying, I will change the locks: FORGET IT, you can end up in the gallows for this because it is trespassing.
  2. My tenant is not paying; I will cancel the electricity and water supplies: CAREFUL, doing this is punishable under the Spanish Criminal Code as it is considered to be coercion and/or harassment.
  3. My landlord has not made some repairs I have asked him to do so I am deducting the repair costs from the rent. NO, if you do this you can get evicted. Rent has to be paid every month, religiously, and if you want to ask him to carry out remedial work on the property you have to notify him formally. They are 2 separate issues and cannot be mixed up because the law has established this.
  4. I have an 11 month contract which I am told is short term and so I will be able to kick the tenant out on expiration of the term: FALSE, all residential rental contracts can be challenged and extended up to 5 years, optional for the tenant and mandatory for the owner. A registration certificate with the local Town Hall will suffice to invoke this.
  5. My contract is in German so it is not valid: A very common fallacy. Any document which can be translated by a registered or certified translator or interpreter is valid in a Court of law.

More to come on my next Post!

Inheritance, Property , , , , , , ,

Hiring and Firing in Spain: Don’t Get Burnt!

February 22nd, 2010

Business is toughI very much enjoyed reading an article written by Eleanor Mill in the Sunday Times in respect of how overprotective EU employment legislation is interfering severely with women’s careers because of provisions on maternity leave. Eleanor says that “legislation designed to protect women is now killing them with kindness” because it almost forces them to stay at home “pureeing carrot” for up to, depending on the country, 3 years when they have made some choices, working being one of them!

I don’t intend to make an analysis or comparison between the different jurisdictions in place across the EU but because Eleanor’s article coincided in time with a labour dispute we had in our office I would like to expand a bit on the opposite, that is, how can a pregnant worker who wishes to never work again (judging by her acts it cannot be otherwise) take advantage of Spanish laws and endlessly link a series of leave periods of different nature to avoid coming back to work and all the while getting paid.

In our case, the worker, who was pregnant, had verbally agreed that she would take maternity leave for a number of months and on her return she would resign, taking with her a reasonable package. She had her baby and it all went well and good until she was due back in the office to implement the agreement we had, when she decided that the agreement was no longer good enough for her because she could get far more from us (inasmuch as even though she is not working the employer still has to pay) and from the social security system…

Chronologically, the events can be summarised as follows:

  1. Sick leave (high risk pregnancy/painful back): 23 weeks
  2. Maternity leave: 16 weeks
  3. Breastfeeding leave: 2 weeks
  4. Holidays: 4 weeks
  5. Sick leave again (anxiety this time): 9 weeks… and counting.

When I spoke to a colleague with vast expertise in labour to ask him for some advice, he broke into a laughter and reproached me that “it served me well for hiring women of a certain age because they were explosive devices which detonate by pregnancy”. I don’t have to say how much I disapproved his comment, but it had me thinking for some moments after which he said that the only way to tackle this problem was to reach an agreement with the employee because, in his experience, Courts in Spain would always rule in their favour and until reaching a ruling I would still have to pay wages and social security cover (a horrific 30% of the salary!)

Two months later received another registered letter with acknowledgement of content (burofax) indicating that she was pregnant again…

Aside from this, it appears that, due to the crisis, some employees are taking their employers to Court in spite of pre-agreed work conditions that don’t suit them any longer. As an example I can cite two typical examples:

  1. Employer hires under the condition that the employee will not claim the extortionate 45 days of salary per year worked (the famous “finiquito”, which is considered to be one of the causes of our near to 20% unemployment and 25% in Andalucía). The employee agrees gleefully and shakes hands but when he loses his job he reneges on the deal due to the fact that these rights cannot be waived and takes his employer to the cleaners.
  2. Employer enters a contract with a self employed worker (autonomo), which is a contract typically used in the real estate industry and with some lawyers. Since plenty of case-law deems that this type of contract is used by employers to avoid social security and redundancy payments it can successfully be morphed to a full labour contract, through the Employment Tribunal, which will hit the employer, retrospectively, with a request for unpaid social security, fines, interest, redundancy etc. Enough to put anyone off employing in Spain forever!

I will finally add that in my experience, real estate workers, in particular sales representatives, have an extremely high ratio of honouring verbal agreements when fired under an “autonomo” contract, far more than lawyers hired under those same circumstances (sorry colleagues!).

So what it the solution to the above? According to the trend of our unemployment rate and our average salaries in comparison to the rest of Europe, there is only one solution (unions will blacklist me for saying this): don’t hire in Spain, or if you do, make sure salaries are very low, and if you can avoid it, don’t sign indefinite contracts!

Corporate Law , ,

The Praised New Omnibus Act for Businesses is “Business as Usual”

February 18th, 2010

omnibus-act-red-tape-in-spain1It will certainly sound perplexing for many, especially when thinking on Spain’s internationally infamous bureaucracy, but as from the beginning of 2010 someone willing to open a business in Spain will not be required to obtain a license but only to apply for it. Although the procedure sounds “too good to be true” it is indeed the case, but not thanks to Zapatero but to a EU Directive known as the Bolkenstein Directive which has now been implemented.

Anyone who has been involved with opening a business will know that this legislation change is providing a legal framework to something which was de facto being done, that is, start running a business without having the permit which, in some Town Halls, was taking up to 12 months to grant. The problem us lawyers had with this was telling a client that yes, it was not a problem to open it whilst “mañana” Town Hall officials reviewed the papers and decided, after innumerable trips to the businesses department with fully stamped certificates from until-then-unknown technicians, to grant the bloody thing. Because although the above system was in practice, any unfriendly neighbour could call the local police to complain that a place was running without a license, and that automatically merited a visit and a fine (some of up to €1,200).

The Omnibus Act, as it is called, has replaced the requirement of having to apply for a business opening license with a Declaration of Responsibility, where the business owner needs only to assemble the paperwork and the technical certificates required and submit them to the Town Hall, followed by a statement confirming that the applicant has complied with the requirements undertaking to maintain these throughout the duration of the activity.  

But as usual the Act has a trap: the exemption of having to apply for a license leaves out all the activities which fall under the Environment Management Act which includes, inter alia, guns & ammunitions factories (thank God for that!), mineral extraction quarries, open air cattle, hog and livestock wholesaling, F1 circuits and many other unimaginable businesses, but also (and this is the trap) pubs, bars, restaurants, butchers, fishmongers, kebab corner shops and many other joints so popular in the Spanish coasts. So as far as we are concerned the new Act will pass by and large unnoticed.

Corporate Law , ,

What Constitutes Reckless and Imprudent Litigation

February 3rd, 2010

beware-of-reckless-spanish-lawyersSome 12 months ago we were dumped by a client who was buying an off-plan unit in the development known as Bahía de las Rocas. It was no surprise that the newly acting “scavenging” lawyer, was operating from the expat-legal-gossip omnibus portal known as Eye On Spain (, wherefrom she had lured our client and probably told her how deep was our tie with the introducing agent, how horrible the developer was and how biased we were as a firm.

Our advice had been consistent throughout the transaction, advising the client that we could see no grounds for pulling out. She had tried to convince us in turn that, according to what the agents had told her, the property should have had a certain orientation, with views to a certain place. We spoke to the developer to verify this but could not find indications of any contractual infringement from where to successfully launch a claim.

Some months after we received the standard fax from the above lawyer asking for all the documents, and soon after the developer’s lawyer summoned us to Court to give witness statement. Out of curiosity we picked the phone up and called the developer, to find out that they had been sued not for the property having the wrong views but for, and here we go… delayed completion!!

But something was not right in all of this because, according to some simple calculations made with our desktop Casio calculator, the delay was of…cero days!!! Our curiosity went even further and, when reading the claimant’s petition, we noticed that it looked like a copy and paste piece of work because it made no sense whatsoever. How could any lawyer in his right mind consider NO delay as a fundamental breach of contract? What advice did this lawyer give to the client when offering her legal services? How could this lawyer, when cross examining us, ask us questions which answers directly exposed the entire satisfaction of the client with the property? But the funniest thing of all was that our client admitted in Court that she had been at all times informed and updated by us of the course of the works, without her manifesting any dissent.

The outcome was as predictable as clockwork: The judge ruled in favour of the developer, and sentenced the claimant to pay the legal bill. (An ‘anonymized’ copy of the ruling is available upon request.)

The legal conclusions of this botched attempt to trick the judges can be summarized as follows:

  1. Contractual extensions on property transactions are legal.
  2. Force majeure and Acts of God grounds for opposition are valid under Spanish law in case of non-performance.
  3. Lawyers should do a minimum pre-hearing preparation before entering the Court room if only to avoid, when cross-examining the previous lawyers, look very silly.
  4. Lawyers should tell their clients that they can, and sometimes should, lie in Court when being cross-examined, because the other party will most certainly lie too! (there is no such thing as perjury in Spain).
  5. Generally, lawyers should make their clients sign a disclaimer when persuading a client to start a Court case with no options whatsoever of winning a case.

From an economic point of view losing this case will mean a legal bill of between €20K, and nothing achieved. Too bad for reckless litigators!

Litigation, Property , ,