Community Of Property Owners
Harry King retired from corporate life in Britain to live in Spain. He would do so all over again if faced with the same decision, and now lives in Alicante. He is the author of a number of books including Going to Live in Spain, Buying a Property in Spain and Buy to Let in Spain.
A Community of Property Owners is a mechanism of self-regulation common in continental Europe and in the USA but unusual in the UK except in up-market apartments. When a number of people own land or buildings in such a way that they have exclusive use of part of the property, but a shared use in the remainder, a comunidad is created.
In a comunidad the owner holds the house or apartment outright and shares the use of the remaining areas as part of a community of owners. It is not only a shared pool or TV aerial that is jointly owned but any lift shafts, common corridors, entrances and parking areas. While members of the comunidad are each responsible for their own home, they collectively agree the action required upon those common areas and become responsible for paying their share of common expenses.
The community is managed by an elected committee which appoints a president and secretary, both of whom are residents in the community. Day to day management can be delegated to a professional administrator, who need not be a resident in the community.
HOW IT WORKS
The community of property owners (comunidad de propietarios) is regulated by the Law of Horizontal Property (La Ley de Propiedad Horizontal) which was passed in 1960 and amended in 1999. Some urbanisations of detached villas do not come under the Horizontal Law as roads, drains and lighting may serve the public as well as residents, thus requiring collaboration between owners and the town hall. One of the provisions of the 1999 amendment makes it easier for them to use the protection of the Horizontal Law.
A property contract, the escritura and the law surrounding communities binds an owner to the actual community regulations.
A property owner requires no more than an understanding of the legal principles. There are many English language translations and interpretations of the law itself, suitable for those who seek appointment as president or a committee member. For the president in particular, the only legally appointed person, a full understanding of procedural issues is necessary for there are many minority groups seeking to trip up the unwary.
When the word urbanisation is mentioned it will always mean a community of property owners. It is by far the most common form of property ownership for foreign buyers in Spain. In an urbanisation the communal areas can include roads, gardens, swimming pools, communal satellite TV systems and possibly, in composite developments, a small marina or golf area. The common areas in an apartment block are the lifts, lobby, stairs, foundations and the roof. Any property that shares facilities will automatically become a member of the relevant comunidad. Fully detached villas, fincas and town houses in a public street have no shared facilities and therefore do not form part of any community.
Each comunidad is registered at the local property registry for each town, with a set of statutes defining common areas. By law it should also hold at least one general meeting of all residents each year, and elect one of its members as its president and one as secretary, both assisted by a committee. Large communities will have a more complex structure, often employing a professional administrator to carry out management of the urbanisation. In mainly foreign-owned urbanisations this role is often taken on by a development company or an administrator first appointed by the developers on behalf of the community.
Administrador de fincas
This is a licensed property administrator belonging to a Colegio who handles property matters such as paying property taxes, managing rentals and ensuring records are properly kept. An administrador de finca is employed by property owners to ensure the community’s affairs are handled professionally. They may manage several communities, may be part of an estate agency or even a subsidiary of a developer.
The role of the committee is to ensure that common parts are maintained, set the community charges, agree a written set of rules and oversee spending. It has to be said however that it is often difficult to establish these principles in the minds of residents, who often see the committee as a complaints board. The rules set by the comunidad are intended to improve the quality of life of residents. They usually deal with concerns about noise, the pool, pets and the overall standard of the urbanisation or apartment.
The quota is the percentage of total community costs and voting rights allocated to a particular property. Since all properties are not exactly the same size the amount paid will vary, the exact percentage being stated in the escritura. The overall community spending plan is set at each year’s AGM. The net effect of quotas and actual spending can be seen in a property owner’s annual bill, although in a new urbanisation this is not available for two years.
As befits a Spanish regulation, indeed a self-regulating law requiring voluntary agreement between people, procedural issues dominate. The AGM can be entertaining or frustrating. It can be like a bullfight. All human frailties are on display. Not only do you get to know your neighbour quickly but the quirks of their mind too. As fully trained administrators the Spanish love it. The Germans seek order. The laid back Scandinavians give it a miss and the Brits cannot cope with it at all. On display are people who love being on committees, those who question every euro spent and those who are simply belligerent. When problems arise it is because of money – where some residents wish to take on an extra expense and some do not. A communal swimming pool is a fruitful topic of conversation. So too is noise. Discussion on items can be made worse where urbanisations have an ongoing history of bad relationships, where different nationalities cannot work together, or the views of residents and non-residents are irreconcilable.
A minute book of the last annual general meeting will demonstrate any problems. An agenda, minutes of meetings, a list of owners’ names with their allocated quotas, updated payments or debts, are all published for every meeting. The meetings are formal and often long but ‘find a friend’ as proxy voting is allowed.
David Searl, You and the Law in Spain. Malaga: Santana Ediciones. A translation of the actual law, together with an interpretation and guidance. Very useful for community presidents.