There are countless urbanisations each hosting their own community of property owners (Comunidad de Proprietarios) throughout Spain. On the whole they can be beneficial organisations. The intention is that through the annual general meeting decisions are made relating to the community and its upkeep. Common elements, such as swimming pools, stair wells, garden areas and other community facilities are cared for collectively.
However, having a community of owners does have its draw backs. Permission must be sought if you want to alter your property and rules for the use of community facilities in Spain are set by the community as a whole.
Some communities function extremely well. They enable the maintenance of a high standard of appearance for their properties and ensure the behaviour of those ‘passing through’ such as those renting or visiting.
However, there can also be difficulties. Enforcing the payment of community fees and disagreements between community members are two of the complaints most regularly featuring on forums and in discussions. It is well worth finding out more about your community of owners before buying the property.
Each owner is assigned a percentage (cuota) of the annual expenses, and this percentage is shown on the Title Deeds of the Spanish property. The charges vary from community to community and it is one of the questions you should ask when purchasing.
The fees might be collected by standing order monthly, quarterly or at longer intervals. They are used to pay for expenses such as:
- The maintenance of lifts and communal areas
- Cleaning, sweeping and tending of outdoor garden areas
- Costs of running the community itself e.g. payment for the administrator
- Upkeep of security such as gates and doors
- Maintenance of swimming pools
- Community personnel such as a security guard or caretaker
The collection of community fees can be an issue in some communities. For example, it can be a particular problem where there are a large number of unpopulated houses or where there are difficulties collecting fees. This can cause tensions and additional expense for those using the facilities.
There are methods of recovering debts but they are not easy to pursue and some properties on communities lapse until the property is sold. If you do not pay your fees then you can still attend the community annual general meeting but will not be allowed to vote to elect either the Secretary or the Administrator. You will also be prohibited from contesting any decisions taken.
If the fees are not collected then they remain as outstanding debts against the property. When the owner comes to sell either they or the buyer will have to settle these before the property can change hands. A good solicitor will ensure that the community certificate of debt is checked at the Notary’s office.
People sometimes confuse their community fees with their council tax. Remember there will still be Spanish council tax to pay to the local town hall. This tax pays for the services that the council provides such as major road maintenance and street lighting external to but leading up to your urbanisation.
How is the community run?
Every community of owners must have a President who must be one of the property owners. They must also have an administrator who understands the law and how a community operates and fees are charged for this service. There is usually a college for administrators somewhere within the region who can supply administrators .For example, in the province of Alicante there is the Colegio de Administradores de Fincas de Alicante.
Members are entitled to attend the Annual General Meeting and should receive notification of when this is being held in sufficient time for them to arrange their attendance. Participants should be informed of the order of business and have the right to express their opinions and the right to vote at the meeting.
During the Annual General Meeting the president and administrator will be elected and the budget for the past and coming year should be discussed. The Statutes of the Community should be approved and any internal rules agreed. The president may also call an Extraordinary General Meeting.
The meeting will most likely be held in Spanish, depending on the balance of native and foreign speakers. There might be opportunity to vote to change the language the meetings are held in. If you are not able to attend you can appoint a representative and can delegate your vote to another member or appoint a proxy.
Minutes of meetings are recorded in a book (libro de actas) and these can be used as evidence in court proceedings. The administrator will keep the book of minutes.
How do I join one?
There is no option of joining or not joining a community of owners. You are immediately a member once you have bought your property and must abide by the legal rights and obligations that come with it.
What happens if we don’t have one?
In some cases urbanisations have found that their community has no real purpose. Perhaps there are few shared facilities and the property owners feel generally that their needs would best be served by the council. Where this is the case, there is an alternative. If your urbanisation has no real common elements then it can be possible to unanimously dissolve the community.
Overall, the concept is a good one and having agreed rules to abide by can prevent many of the niggles between neighbours that can occur otherwise.