Santa Ana del Monte. A story of successful recovery of deposits paid to an insolvent developer in Spain

Construction site photo

 

 

 

Litigation is never an easy thing.

When I was a trainee lawyer in Spain, my boss, who was a walking enciclopedia and knew every single law in Spain, used to tell me:

“Antonio, it is always better to reach a bad settlement than entering into a long but good case in Court because litigation is, regardless of the outcome, always exhausting and some times frustrating”.

I always followed that advice and tried to settle where possible (provided that the client was happy with the settlement reached, of course) but sometimes a settlement is not possible because there is no intention to settle from the other party or simply because there is no money to settle. This is what happened with a development that I know quite well in Spain. The development was called Santa Ana del Monte in Jumilla and it was supposed to be a very interesting development with nice properties and golf courses until the recession put a halt on the construction and the developer had to file for administration, then eventually after 5 years of failed negotiations, liquidation.

When I say that I know the development quite well is because I had more than 100 clients who instructed me and a barrister litigator that we use in Spain called Emilio Lucas Marin (another very well versed lawyer who receives my admiration) to represent them in the insolvency procedure and try to get their money back. After 5 years of talks, legal writs, claims, appeals and some eventual sleepless nights the developer filed for liquidation and the clients were left with barely no chances to get their deposits back, deposits that ranged from 30,000 Euro to 100,000 Euro. We then explored a possibility that had been explored in only a few cases which consisted of issuing legal proceedings against the bank that had received the deposits. This kind of action could be taken on the basis that Spanish law 57/1968 seemed to state that when a bank receives the payment made by an individual towards the construction of an off-plan property, that bank could be held jointly liable if the developer does not supply a bank guarantee to guarantee the safety of that deposit. This is exactly what happened in Santa Ana del Monte. Purchasers paid their deposits into a bank account of a Spanish bank, the developer used the money and in most of the cases failed to secure the deposits with a bank guarantee. On this basis, we studied the possibility of taking action against the said bank. Other law firms did the same and others opted for issuing legal proceedings against all the banks that had provided bank guarantees for that developer in the past.  We decided to take action solely against whichever bank received the deposit in that particular case and it worked.

3 years down the line we have received more than 20 positive judgments where the Judge has ordered the bank to repay the deposit in full. Very often those judgments also order the bank to pay legal interest and legal costs. In other cases the Judge has been more prudent and not awarded legal fees but generally there is an order for payment of interests attached to the order for full refund.

We still have several clients who are litigating against the bank but looking at the current trend of Judges ruling in favour of the purchaser/client the odds are clearly in favour of the client.

What is the moral of this story? Well, first of all I still believe in the advice given by my first mentor in the legal profession. When dealing with a dispute always try to settle if possible. When this is not possible then litigate but make sure that you have sufficient legal grounds to win. And if by any chance you have paid a deposit for an off plan property and this was never built you may have a case against the bank that received your deposit. If that is your case, speak with a lawyer to see if you have a strong case against that bank as this may be your only chance of getting your money back.

In memory of Miguel Viladés (R.I.P), a superb lawyer and a gentleman who, together with his son Alberto, mentored me and initiated me into the legal profession.

 

 

Returning the keys back to the bank

morguefile com1 (2)A REAL CASE OF A SUCCESFUL DACION EN PAGO

This is a real case that we saw in the office some months ago. For obvious reasons, no names will be mentioned. The important thing is what happened and how the matter was resolved. Let me explain what happened.

 

In year 2006 two friends bought a property in Spain in the peak of the market for the amount of 200.000 €. In that year, the housing prices were high due to the excessive demand and banks granted mortgages like bakers bake muffins: one after the other.

Spanish banks were happy to lend monies because property prices were continuously rising like there was no tomorrow. These two friends got a mortgage for 180.000 € and therefore only had to put 20,000 € from their own money plus another 20,000 for taxes and fees. Total investment into the property was 40,000 € and the rest was brought by the bank.

Not much later the real estate bubble bursted in Spain. Consequently, the housing market declined, housing demand plummeted drastically, the value of the properties decreased and people were not able to pay their mortgages. Banks repossessed the houses and they sold them out in auction; therefore, there were more properties in the market and prices decreased more and more.

In 2014 the two friends realised they could not face the payments of the mortgage and they stopped paying regularly. They also contacted our firm for advice. We informed them that there is an option for people like themselves who are prepared to surrender the keys to the bank and be freed of the mortgage. It is called “dación en pago” and it involves signing a deed whereby the property and title are handed to the bank in exchange of the redemption of the debt. It is not a great solution as it usually involves writing off any investment and money put on the property but at least allows the clients to clear their bad investment in Spain and start from scratch in the UK with no debts. These clients were prepared to take this route and therefore instructed us to talk to the bank and start negotiations.

We contacted the bank, explained our clients’ situation and pushed for a dación en pago. The bank came back to us saying that the value of the property was lower than the mortgage. There was a 30,000 € shortfall and this shortfall had to be paid somehow. In layman terms, the property was now worth 160,000 € and they still owed the bank 190,000 €. The bank wanted to recover the 30,000 € shortfall and the solution offered was that the dacion en pago would be accepted provided that the clients signed a personal loan for the remaining 30,000 €. This option was not entirely satisfactory to the clients but they were prepared to sign the loan if the conditions were affordable.

A few weeks later and while we were in the process of waiting for the bank’s proposal, a debt collection agency was appointed to deal with this matter. The property was valued again and we took the opportunity that a new person was dealing with the file to explore the possibility of a full dacion en pago. We are not sure if it was pure luck or persistency (I have got the feeling that their valuation came higher than they initially thought and probably saw the potential of the property) but the debt collectors accepted the offer of a full dacion and suggested a date for the signing of the dacion. This was excellent news for the client as a full dacion consisted in handing the keys and the title to the bank in exchange of the clearance of the debt. Exactly what they wanted. The only requirement placed by the bank was that the property was transferred up to date of taxes and management fees. These were paid by the clients and we proceeded to sign the necessary deed of dacion en pago which freed the clients from this burden.

It was not the best outcome as this meant losing any investment put into the property but clients got rid of a massive debt that was affecting their finances. Furthermore, clients were aware that if they defaulted in the mortgage, the bank would repossess the property and eventually come after them in the UK for any shortfall due (and believe me there is always a shortfall). A slightly happy ending to a bad story. Obviously not all stories are like this and not all property owners want to get rid of their properties in Spain. Most prefer to keep them and enjoy them during their holidays. Others prefer to let them and wait until the market recovers. However, for those where the mortgage is a burden, there is always this possibility. It is not the panacea but it could allow a person who is struggling financially to clear some debts and start from scratch as a new person with no debts.

 

 

 

Ok, a dación en pago has been approved. Now what?

 Businesswoman viewing the contract before signing

 

 

 

 

 

If you own a property  in Spain but you are no longer able to pay its monthly mortgage instalments, one of the possibilities contained in the Spanish legal system is the dación en pago which is the procedure to enable consumers to surrender their properties back to the bank in exchange of clearing the debt.

In previous posts we commented that the amount of these procedures has decreased and it is no longer easy to get a dación en pago accepted. The fact of being a non-resident does not make things easier and some Spanish banks are too busy to be concerned about non-residents debtors as they have more important defaults to deal with in Spain.

If you have contacted your Bank and the Bank has accepted your case, there will be some tax consequences that you have to face. One of them is the payment of 3% Capital Gains Tax retention. This percentage is usually known for being the tax on the gains obtained in the sale of a house when the sellers are non-resident.  Given the circumstances in which this process is approved, you may think that there is no obligation to pay it. However, the truth is quite different. The 3% retention over the value of the property is also applicable in a dación en pago. The only exemption applicable to the dación en pago applies to those who are close to the level of poverty and for whom the house is their main residence. Therefore this kind of transactions for non-residents are still considered taxable regardless if there is a gain or a loss. Having said that, many Banks will bear that cost if the value of the property justifies it.

This 3% should be differentiated from other taxes due as the payment of the plusvalia tax, the payment of the annual property tax (I.B.I or SUMA) and the Community of owners’ fees which also need to be paid by transferor of the property before its transfer. In spite of the above, the real challenge these days is to have the dación en pago agreed. Banks are no longer keen on this agreement and very often the only way to achieve this result is instructing a lawyer able to negotiate the terms and explain the situation to the bank in plain Spanish. And for those lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you view it) enough to have arrived to an agreement with the bank for the surrender of the property, bear in mind that the Bank is entitled to request payment of all the appropriate taxes and costs prior to the transfer. Once again, it will all depend on your negotiation skills!

 

 

 

 

 

No way out?

Recently and as a result of the sum of several factors such as the unstoppable fall of the sales of properties and an increase in mortgage defaults, Spanish banks have accumulated more than 150,000 million euros in property assets. Assets which, incidentally, the banks do not want but the truth is that since October 2008, the amount of acquired houses by banks has not decreased, quite the opposite, it has continued to grow.

 
This is partly due to the so-called “dación en pago”, common and usual practice in Spain, which consists in giving the house or flat to the bank and canceling the mortgage debt or part of it, after the property has been valued. In some cases, the Dación en pago involves payment of the total mortgage debt (dati pro solute) and in others cases payment of part of the mortgage (dati pro solvendo).

However, the truth is that as result of excessive accumulation of assets by banks, the chances of banks accepting the “dación en pago” these days without an offer for sale for the property by a third party have declined.
 

 

Another strategy used by families in Spain to keep ahead and tackle debt is called “REUNIFICACIÓN DE DEUDAS”. It consists of clustering all sort of debts (including personal loans and mortgages) into a single mortgage, the monthly payments being refinanced and maturity dates being extended. This practice reduces the total monthly payments and restores the family’s or individual’s creditworthiness. The downside of this practice is that it would mean either re-mortgaging the property if there already was a mortgage in place or mortgaging the property if this was free of charges. For those without a property it would mean committing to a longer repayment plan with higher interests 

In my opinion the “dación en pago” and the “reunificación de deudas” are appropriate measures to keep afloat financially. In the case of the former, it would mean cancelling the mortgage and being able to start from scratch without debts. In the case of the latter, it would allow buying some time to make things work and hopefully be able to tackle the debt later on in a better position, mentally and financially.  These options prove much better than defaulting on debts, as this always implies legal consequences that stay with the debtor for years, whether this is bad creditor reports or the fear of being sued in Court.

Picture from www.freefoto.com   

 

Holiday home Brits have now three weeks to claim following Aifos collapse

British home buyers who fear they may lose out due to the insolvency of one of Spain’s best known developers have been given until the end of September to register their claim with the Spanish authorities.

Aifos Arquitectura y Promociones Inmobiliarias SA has gone into administration leaving 4,000 unfinished homes. Aifos was one of the first Spanish developers to open an office in the North West although the premises in John Dalton Street, Manchester closed around two years ago. The company also had offices in Trafalgar Square, London.

Aifos, which promoted itself as a ‘young and dynamic’ developer, was known for its ambitious schemes, luxury services and aggressive marketing campaigns. It was behind many projects in Andalucía and owned hotels such as the Guadalpín Marbella and the Hotel Byblos in Mjias.

The company reflected the glamorous side of Marbella’s construction industry but it also became synonymous with the darker side too when several of its directors were implicated by an anti-corruption campaign, Operation Malaya, the results of which shocked the country.

It is estimated that Aifos has debts of over 1,000 million Euros and more than 2,000 creditors. The company filed for voluntary administration which has now been accepted, and administrators are being appointed to supervise its affairs.

Anyone who has purchased a property off-plan from Aifos or owns a property that has not been fully finished needs to inform the administrators and the court before 30 September to ensure they are included in the final list of creditors. They will need to supply any documents that can help to prove the payments made, such as purchase contracts, payment orders and bank statements.

They should also check whether they have been supplied with a bank guarantee. A guarantee is compulsory under Spanish law, although not all developers comply, and will ensure that if the property is not finished, a guarantor, usually a bank, will refund the money they have paid plus interest. It could mean the difference between them losing all their money and getting a refund.

Ideally purchasers should contact a lawyer versed in Spanish insolvency law who can ensure they have all the right paperwork and are properly represented in the administration procedure, as well as contemplating alternative solutions such as enforcing the bank guarantee where this has been provided.