The concept of a Spanish Community being run by a democratically elected committee is an excellent one – in theory! In my experience, (including 4 years of serving as President), some of the most frustrating periods of my life have been spent in involvement with Community affairs. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject:-
The most important office is that of the President, who is the legal representative of the Community. The job requires someone with the patience of a saint and is bilingual, a sound communicator, has good organizational experience, has some knowledge of accounts and with lots of time to invest in the Community affairs. As you can imagine, outside IBM and BP, you will not find many candidates with all these qualifications and if you did they probably would not want the job! A typical response from somebody who has been asked to stand for the position is, “I didn’t retire to Spain to spend my life at Community meetings.”
So, in the real world the Community lands up with a compromise President. For example, someone with lots of time, loves bossing others around, but who would have trouble organizing a booze-up at the San Miguel brewery!
However, before you start to complain about the President, or any other official, ask yourself if you would like the job. If the answer is “no” then stop complaining!
Some Communities, wisely in my view, pay their officials for the arduous work they do, or at least reduce their Community fees.
A well run Community cannot function without a clear and fair set of Statutes, defining the responsibilities of all members of the Community, including renters. Issues might include the following:-
Title and definition of the Community,
Responsibilities of Community officers and members,
Relationships with other bodies, such as Macro Communities and the local authorities,
Payment of the Community fees,
Extensions to property,
Community Insurance cover,
Respect for neighbours,
Maintenance of and behaviour in the communal areas.
The statutes should not contradict the Laws of Horizontal Property, nor Spanish local and national laws.
The Statutes must be voted on at an AGM and noterised. Versions translated into majority languages should be available.
Every member of the Community should be issued with an up-to-date copy and a copy should ideally be placed on the Community notice board. In addition, important items of behavioral requirements should be prominently displayed in the communal areas. Renters should ensure that their tenants are frequented with the Statutes.
In short, you cannot expect Community members to obey the rules if they are not clearly defined and widely publicised.
A huge problem in many Communities is that of owners who fail to pay their Community fees. The committee relies on regular and prompt payment of fees to maintain the smooth running of the Community. Defaulters can usually be divided into 3 groups:-
Those in financial difficulty,
Those who object to a Community decision and withhold their fees as a protest,
The Community must act swiftly and decisively to ensure defaulters pay up. Despite new laws that have been introduced to allow Communities to place embargos on properties owned by persistent defaulters, the process can still be lengthily and injurious to the Community accounts. Many Communities place defaulter lists on the Community notice board.
Communities often consist of many owners who do not speak fluent Spanish. Sometimes the best candidates for office are in this category. How are these officers going to communicate with important members of the local Community? The answer is, “with difficulty”! We all know expatriates have a duty to learn the native language, but very few do so. The language challenge really comes to a head at AGM time, when perhaps none of the committee speaks Spanish, but the majority of attendants are Spanish and do not speak English.
Perhaps the answer is to ensure that at least one or more of the committee are, or speak Spanish, so that they can act as interpreters.
On the subject of meetings – very often they are very poorly attended, even when very important issues are to be decided. Ironically, those who fail to attend are very often the loudest critics of the committee’s decisions!
If the meeting is to be of any use at all, the following requirements have to be met:-
A reasonable period of notice, (ideally defined in the Community statutes), must be given.
The Agenda should be short as possible and clear. Where proposals are to be voted upon, they should be defined here, so as to give owners time to research and deliberate on the subject before the meeting.
The letter of notice and the Agenda should be in Spanish and majority languages of the members.
The venue should be convenient to reach, sufficiently spacious and comfortable. For large Communities, voice amplification systems should be available.
The date and time should be convenient to the majority of members.
The President, or suitable delegate, will act as Chairman of the meeting. The Chairman’s main responsibilities are:-
Open the meeting,
Maintain order, (one speaker at a time),
Ensure the Agenda is adhered to,
Ensure that proposals are debated constructively and fairly,
Oversee the voting procedure,
Ensure clear and accurate minutes are taken.
Close the meeting.
A bi-lingual official should be appointed as Secretary, whose sole responsibility is to listen and record minutes, under the direction of the Chairman.
In the case of mixed language Communities, an interpreter, (ideally an independent of the community), should be appointed to ensure all attendees are clear about what is being stated and agreed. The Chairman’s influence is important here in ensuring the interpreter is clearly heard.
The procedures for dealing with absentees, who wish to assign their vote to another member, must be well defined in the Statutes.
Finally, all contributors to debate have a responsibility to act responsibly, by stating their views clearly and concisely without hogging the procedures or talking out of turn.
Before Buying a Property
Prospective buyers will be wise to follow these procedures:-
Talk to the President of the Community to get a general picture of how well the Community is run and to judge how well you would relate to him.
Ask for a copy of the Community Statutes. If they do not have any – beware!
Talk to the Administrator to ascertain his level of professional competence. Ensure you are clear about your Community fees and Community Insurance cover. The Administrator is legally required to produce a statement of outstanding debt on the property. In addition, enquire about possible debts which have not yet been completely defined, such as outstanding court cases and major debts to suppliers who have not yet sent a formal invoice. Get an independent legal adviser to research these important issues.
Obtain opinions from various owners about the manner in which the community is run.
Making sure you are moving into a happy, well-run Community is just as important a consideration as the quality and price of your new property.