I've put off writing this post for quite some time because I am making a claim in the courts here for the return of my deposit of €7,700 (which I wrote about in my previous post) and I don't want to jeopardise the court case by writing too much here. So I have either changed names or simply not mentioned names. The following text is without prejudice.
In my last post, I wrote about a flat which I was committed to buy. The date for signing with the Notary was 30 days after the signing of the initial contract which, had it happened, would have been Christmas Eve. About 2 weeks after signing the initial contract, I was visiting the flat to meet a guy from Ikea to measure up the kitchen (I was alone, the owner had given me the keys). We hit several snags because a lot of the kitchen had already been decided upon (see below) but I had my own ideas. After the man left, I noticed a large amount of rubble in my internal patio, there was a guy working on the roof, the azotea. I went up to the roof and had a shock! There were new buiding works, a huge amount of breeze block stored which I assumed had been delivered by crane. The neighbours in the left-hand upstairs flat were building on the roof which would clearly have affected my flat by blocking the light in the internal patio at certain times in the day as well as altering the structure of the whole building. And then it occured to me that maybe it was illegal in any case. I took a photo which annoyed greatly the builder. And I had proof in my structural survey that the buiding work started after I signed the document
|space for the kitchen
I went to see Pablo (name changed) the proprietor of the whole building. He got angry when I suggested that the work was illegal, he thought I was referring to the whole building. He offered to cancel the contract and return my money but suggested we meet with the neighbours that afternoon. We had a long (but basically friendly) argument about angles of the sun but I had no doubt that I wanted to get out of this contract. Pablo repeated his offer and I accepted.
A little later I received a message in WhatsApp from Pablo. He had highlighted with marker pen a clause which demands that the person defaulting on the contract not only loses their deposit (in my case) but also has to pay the estate agent compensation of €2,500. Obviously he considered that I had defaulted on the contract and should pay the "fine", presumably after receiving the refund.
If Pablo defaults on the contract, he not only has to refund my deposit but also has to pay me a further €7,700 as compensation. So the stakes were quite high. In fact, I never previously asked for the double payment, I just wanted my €7,700 back as promised (plus my costs). Although I have had lots of conversations with lawyers, I have never established if there is a "third way" - in other words, the contract is void due to the conditions having changed but that neither I nor Pablo is technically at fault. In any case, my argument is that it had changed and therefore I was no longer tied to it.
His defence is that the building work is the responsibility of the neighbours - "Nothing to do with me, mate!" But he gave permission and it is his building. This rumbled on through December with no result. I paid a lawyer €250 to try to negotiate a deal. My option was to go the Town Hall and report the building works. I phoned the planning office early in December and they confirmed that no building work is allowed on the roof but that I would have to do a "denuncia", in other words to report it to the local police. I hesistated for a long time doing this as it would obviousy hurt the neighbours more than Pablo. But after a short visit back to Girona just before Christmas, I went to the police at the end of the year and we fashioned a single page of A4, basically telling the story. I knew that it then went to the Town Hall Planning Department, a few doors down the road from the police. But then nothing happened until April.....
Meantime, it was back to the drawing board for me and while this was all going on, I started to look at flats again. The choice is quite simple really, there are various parts of Arrecife which are quite distant from the centre. Argana Alta is a bus ride away and not such a nice area, surrounded by an industrial estate. There are touristy places outside the city such as Costa Teguise and Playa Honda which obviously didn't appeal to me. I was getting desperate. I really didn't want to go back to Girona having failed to buy a place here. I had bought a bike here, the coronavirus was nothing like as serious here. By this time, I was staying in Hostel San Ginés which is close to el Charco, an inland harbour (but sea-water, of course). The staff at the hostel were so friendly, I guess I was there a little over 3 weeks, eating out most evenings in a super bar and restaurant called la Rustica.
Sometimes I cooked my supper in the hostel, there was a kitchen area but it was only really possible if there were no more than two people cooking at the same time.
|The kitchen in the pensión
|el Charco, Arrecife (untypical sky!)
I was walking by el Charco one day at the end of November and noticed a small estate agent close by. I went inside. "We have a place just up the road, it is €87,000". That was a little over my budget (especially since I was owed €7,700) but we went along to see it. It was perfect, I decided I wanted to buy it on the spot. As we walked back down to his office, I suggested a price of €85,000 on the grounds that I did not require a mortgage, He phoned the owner and my offer was accepted. There was no messing around with a deposit or contract of commitment to buy, all documents were already prepared for the purchase. The flat was empty.
|just after moving in
I had no qualms about the structure of the building, it is a modern building on 5 floors with 4 flats per floor and a lift. My flat is on the ground floor.
But I only got to see the Compraventa, the contract to buy the flat, the day before I was due to sign with the Notary. I had been given a lawyer (Sergio) as a contact. One lawyer I saw wanted €800 to sign with the Notary and do all the other chores which follow the purchase of a flat. But I was happy to do that, it was fun. I sent the document to Sergio but I heard nothing back by the time I went to bed, so I was getting quite anxious, the meeting with the Notary was at 11am next day.
At 2.30am I was woken by my phone flickering. It was Sergio writing a message in WhatsApp. Then he started sending voice messages. What he was saying was that the contract was basically fraudulent and that I would have to pay taxes on the increase in value of the flat during the previous 10 years. He told me to lie to the estate agent, saying that I was ill, or had the coronavirus, and he would meet me the following Monday. This was the night of Thursday and Friday and he was in Madrid.
This went on for about an hour. At some stage I suppose I got back to sleep which was a miracle. Next morning, I changed my return flight to Catalunya, I cancelled the bank cheque for €85k and when his office opened, I went to see the estate agent. His reply was astonishment, "Do you imagine we, or the company selling the flat would do such a thing? Our reputation would be lost." (Well, actually I thought the same which is why I ignored Sergio's advice. But I really didn't know what to think. I had been cheated once in this town).
Then I put him on to Sergio and they chatted on the phone. By this time it was about 10am. I think the Notary made a small change to the text but I never checked it. I went back to the bank to obtain a new cheque. The manager was out but finally I got the cheque just in time to go directly to the Notary. The rest was an anti-climax. I sat with David the owner in the Notary's office. He ran through the document, we signed it, I handed over the cheque and David gave me the keys.
In any case, I need not have worried. A Notary is a lawyer too and is there to protect both parties. I had to pay another €60 for the second cheque but I never paid Sergio anything and he didn't ask. That's a pretty good deal, buying a flat with legal costs of €60 (but I paid the Notary fees of course - €450).
I went to the flat in trepidation. Maybe I had made a big mistake, maybe it was smaller than I had imagined, maybe there were noisy neighbours. It was perfect. All the furniture had been taken away and the lounge and kitchen area is a huge square - now full of all my stuff! Sometimes I dance around the space while I am cooking my supper, it is so big!
There is a small room for my washing
machine on the roof and a parking space in the garage (which I use for
my bike!) I didn't have to buy anything for the kitchen but I did buy a
new washing machine, the old one was completely dead. Oh, and I bought a
new water heater because the installed one had a fixed temperature of
75c which was painfully hot.
Now you will be wanting to know what happened with the denuncia with the local police. Around the beginning of April I received a thick envelope from the Town Hall, an informe. It told me of their action against the neighbours which was positively draconian, it included photos of the building work (obviously more advanced than in my photo), one from a drone to show the building in its natural state. It spoke of a "grave" infringement of the law, it spoke of big fines, tens of thousands of euros. It demanded that the work stops. And it required a reply from the neighbours within 15 days. But I am still waiting to hear further news.
|After. But now there is more furniture!
For me, it makes me sad (but not for long). My case is against Pablo, not the neighbours. But they had the whole of December between them to offer me a deal and, in that case, I would not have done the denuncia. And the building work would have gone unnoticed. The Town Hall knew about the works from when I first phoned them but they said that I had to make the denuncia for them to take action.
The last lawyer I contacted quoted me €3,000 to initiate legal proceedings against Pablo but there were many options to be added along the way. This would have been a cloud over my life here. But she suggested the Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Lanzarote. I didn't know that they provide free proceedings and I didn't think that I would qualify anyway. But that is the stage where I am now. They have approved my application and there is one remaining document which I have to provide (always one missing document in Spain!) I now have that document but I have to wait for my next meeting on 5th May to give it to them.
|The Music Stand on the sea front