Jan 142013
 
Solutions to Spanish building problems

PROBLEMS WITH BUILDING WORK IN SPAIN – KNOW THE INDICATIONS AND HOW TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEMS QUICKLY AND EFFECTIVELY!

Of course, having problems with building work in Spain is not unusual. Construction, whether a project is big or small, tends to be contentious and, all too often, ends in a dispute – usually revolving around costs, timings or the quality of the work itself. The trouble is that the very nature of building work means that the stakes involved are usually high (whether financially or emotionally). This means that the earlier you can recognize potential problems and resolve them – the better!

The question is – how can you tell when your building project in Spain is going ‘bad’, once work has started, before real damage or expense is involved?

Well, there are some common factors that I have noticed, over the years, that can indicate that all is not well. Individually, they may not be important but several factors together normally mean that you need to take immediate, preventative action.

INDICATIONS OF POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH BUILDING WORK IN SPAIN

1. The erratic attendance of your builders. (Not to be confused where necessary drying times or bad weather justifies non-attendance)

2. Work not straight or level

3. Builders asking for money ahead of any agreed payment schedule (unless demonstrably justified e.g. where a supplier needs a deposit).

4. Changes to the agreed specification and plans (without your approval).

5. Reluctance by a builder to allow a surveyor or architect to inspect work.

6. Poor quality materials.

7. Sub-standard tradesmen/workers.

8. Statements that no permissions or licensing is needed (virtually all works, even minor works, typically need a license).

ACTIONS TO TAKE ONCE YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE BUILDING PROBLEMS

1. Communicate with your builder. Onsite spoken communication is valuable, but confirm everything in written form (such as an e-mail), so that you have a record of your concerns and your builder’s response. Where possible, get your builder to sign against any agreed items. (A simple list, dated and signed by both parties).

2. Advise your architect

3. Seek advice/inspection from an independent building surveyor in Spain or an architect experienced in your type of work

4. Provide your builder with the professional’s written report and/or arrange a site meeting for all parties to attend (including the independent professional).

5. See a lawyer who specializes in building disputes

6. Ask to see evidence that permissions have been obtained, or at least understand the risks you are taking, if they have not.

Often, most issues to do with sub-standard building work in Spain can be sorted out on site, with the help of an experienced building surveyor or architect. Remember building surveyors are particularly good at identifying issues as well as spotting problems which could lead to structural (or other problems) later.  They also normally have the authority to convince a builder that the right way, is the only way.

The key, of course, is to act quickly to prevent matters going from bad to worse.  So, if you see any indications that your work is not proceeding as it should, do not allow matters to drift…

Of course, if you want to know more – or need help in resolving a building/construction issue – then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Mark Paddon

 

 

Dec 052012
 
Suing for construction defects in Spain

MADE UP, CLAY RICH GROUND RESULTS IN SERIOUS PROPERTY MOVEMENT

All too often property owners in Spain do not take legal action for construction defects to their houses because their builder has either disappeared or gone bankrupt.  Needless to say, on the face of it, there is no point in taking legal action, if the other party has no money or cannot be found.

However, luckily for many property owners, the liability for construction defects in Spain does not always end just with the builder.  Indeed, depending upon the defects, a number of other parties may be responsible and these other parties may have insurance policies that cover the defects – in which case taking legal action in Spain can make very good sense.

So investigate matters further and seek professional advice, before you ‘accept’ the building defects you have and the ‘fact’ that you will have to pay for any necessary remedial works.

The question is who – apart from your builder – can be held responsible for construction defects to your property in Spain?

Well, depending upon the type of defects there are quite a few people or organisations, most of whom (importantly) should have insurance cover.

Of course, the most obvious organisation who may have a responsibility to you (if your property is under 10 years old) is your Decenal insurer.  A Decenal insurance policy is obligatory for any new property constructed by a builder and is an important, albeit not very comprehensive, protection against building defects.  Essentially, Decenal insurance only covers issues relating to structural stability and resistance but these are extremely important and, if these are your main problems, you should be covered, irrespective of what has happened to your builder.  However, bear in mind that damp ingress, though typically not covered, could affect the long term stability of structural elements and therefore might make for a viable claim – if prepared correctly.

Meanwhile, almost all building projects in Spain require the services of an architect, who is responsible for drawing up the plans of any building work and supervising the work undertaken.  Architects, needless to say, must have insurance cover.  Accordingly, if you have building defects, then your architect and/or architect tecnico is an obvious person to sue.

Geo-tech companies, of course, are responsible for ensuring that proper testing of the substrate below your property is tested to ensure that it is adequate for the type of property to be built there.  So, have they done their work correctly?  If not then they could be a target for legal action.

Sub-contractors can also be another source of potential successful litigation in Spain.  They may not have insurance cover but they may be worth suing, if it is their work that has contributed to the defects that your property is suffering.

In the meantime, suppliers of defective materials may be at fault.  Poorly made steel or bricks, plaster or tiles may mean that the person responsible for any defects is not the builder but perhaps a large company more than able to recompense you for your problems (or at least secure and rich enough to sue)

The obvious question is: how can you accurately apportion blame to people and organisations other than your builder (an essential pre-requisite to any successful legal action)?

There is, of course, no easy answer to this question, as everything depends upon the construction defects that you have.  It is also not always easy to establish who has actually caused the problems.

The windows and doors in your house, for example, may be sticking and appear poorly fitted and yet the reason for this may have nothing to do the window suppliers of fitters.  The problem may be that your house is moving due to subsidence or heave because of poor foundations (or because it should never have been constructed on the substrate below the property).  So, the fault is not that of the window suppliers and fitters but (possibly) of the geo tech company or architect…

Clearly, only very well qualified construction professionals can assess building defects – let alone apportion the blame for them.  This is not something that you should attempt yourself, not least because your assessment is unlikely to be accepted by a court.  It is also critically important that blame for the causes of construction defects in Spain are correctly assessed well before embarking on a court battle.

So, never give up hope that you cannot sue for a construction defect in Spain.  It may not be possible, of course, but (in my experience) most of the time there is an insured party involved and one that can be sued – once you have built a case to prove their liability for your construction defects.

Of course, if you want to know more – or need help in resolving a building/construction issue – then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Mark Paddon

Oct 252012
 
Expert in Spanish construction litigation

SUING BUILDERS IN SPAIN – DETAILED STUDY OF PILE FAILURE

Building disputes in Spain are, sadly, not uncommon.  Indeed, hardly a day goes by when I do not receive a call or e-mail from someone who has some sort of construction problem in Spain.

In fact, as I have stated before, the construction of new properties in Spain over the past few years has been very variable.  I have certainly seen fine work but, all too often, I come across defective buildings in Spain.  Quite frankly, the level of skill used in Spanish construction has not always been good and this has been made worse by lax (or sometimes no!) building control.

Of course, it is not only new buildings that have suffered from poor work.  The same is frequently the case with reform projects.  The latter are notorious for going over-budget and it is far from unknown for property owners to end up with a quality of construction and finish that bears no resemblance to what they expected.  Equally, timings for completion of the work can sometimes go from the sublime to the ridiculous!

So, what can you do when a building project in Spain goes wrong?

Speak to your builder

Well, if you are dissatisfied with your building work then the sooner you try to resolve the problem the better.  Certainly, never allow work to continue, if you feel that there is something wrong with the way it is being conducted.  If you do (and you are present most of the time) then you may be considered as someone who has willingly accepted what is being done.

If you are not happy, my advice is always to first tackle the builder and see if you can resolve the problem that is concerning you.  This is an obvious action and usually sorts out most problems, many of which arise quite simply from misunderstandings.

Obtain independent, expert advice

However, if your approach to your builder is ineffective then it is essential that you call in an independent construction expert – such as a properly qualified (and insured in Spain!) building surveyor or structural engineer.  This is the only way that you will be able to authoritatively find out whether there is a real problem or not – how serious that problem is and how best to remedy it.

Make sure, of course, that your building surveyor provides you with a written report, as you may need this should you have to take legal action and it is invaluable as a document to give to your builder.

Frequently, the building surveyor or structural engineer will be able to resolve any Spanish construction problems with the builder.  Direct communication between the two is often, I have found, enough to isolate a problem and ensure that a builder understands what is wrong and how to resolve it (and the consequences of not doing so!).

Certainly, the value of an independent, objective expert should not be underestimated, particularly when matters have become heated.  More often than not, at this stage any building defect dispute can be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned – allowing the project to continue or remedial works to be undertaken.

Construction problems in Spain

TOTAL COLLAPSE OF CRITICAL RETAINING WALL

Needless to say, if your building surveyor or structural engineer has made recommendations to complete or undertake defined works then you should make sure that he supervises these works to ensure that they are properly completed.

Note that taking action early is important e.g. when some monies are still being withheld – or at least when your builder is still financially secure.   Equally, be aware that a genuine lack of sufficient funds will typically result in no action from your builder, even if he agrees that corrections need to be made!

Litigation and suing builders in Spain

Of course, there are times when a building dispute in Spain goes beyond any easy resolution.  For any number of reasons, you can find that you and the builder (even with the help of a building surveyor’s report) cannot come to agreement.  This happens particularly when a builder has no money (as mentioned above).

Furthermore, in my experience, it is actually rare for a builder to put things right properly and a history of inadequate repairs and ‘cover up’ work is common. However, by Spanish law you must give your builder the opportunity to put things right.

Naturally, it is perfectly normal to lose confidence in a builder who repeatedly proves to be untrustworthy or incompetent and the line as to just how much opportunity you should give them is ill defined.

Needless to say, if you just cannot get a satisfactory resolution from your builder (and many owners waste money and time in an attempt to do so) then you will have to face the unpleasant prospect of legal action in Spain.

Problem with Spanish builders

SIGNIFICANT PROPERTY MOVEMENT

In fact, all is not always lost at this stage.  Frequently, a builder can be ‘brought to heel’ (and perhaps even find some money) once he has received a detailed letter from a litigation lawyer threatening legal action.  Few people really want to face a court action and the reality of this occurring can concentrate the minds of many constructors – together with the minds of architects and even insurers, who might prove to be liable or jointly liable as the case unfolds.  The latter point is particularly important.

Your builder may have no money and possibly not be worth suing but this will often not be true of fully insured  professionals or companies associated with your building work, such as the Geotech firm responsible for your property or the architect who supervised the project.  Equally you may be covered by a Decenal insurance policy.

So, the fact that your builder may be penniless does not mean that you should despair of taking legal action and suing builders in Spain – although you will need a decent lawyer and construction professional to assist you in assessing the potential liability of others involved in your project!

Not everyone will buckle under the threat of litigation in Spain and you may well have to actually launch an action to obtain compensation for defective building work in Spain.  This, of course, is an unfortunate direction to take but sometimes unavoidable.

If you do decide to take legal action then you must make sure that the lawyer you go to is a specialist litigation lawyer – and preferably one who is an expert in Spanish construction litigation.  This is vital, as many lawyers in Spain are not specialists and should not be entrusted with the responsibility of conducting a major contentious case.

Naturally, taking legal action in Spain is a last resort but you should realise that the Spanish legal system does work and that court actions, more or less, take as long as in the UK.  By this, I mean that should your case not settle before the trial then you should expect a trial to take place some two or three years after issuing proceedings.  There may then be an appeal, which could take some 18 months after that to resolve.

So, be aware that legal proceedings in Spain (like almost anywhere in the world) take time and, of course, money to prosecute.  However, this may be the only way that you can resolve your dispute.  In that case it can be your only realistic course of action and one that should (if you have a good case) be worthwhile.

Of course, if you want to know more – or need help in resolving a building/construction issue or if you are thinking of suing your builders in Spain – then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Mark Paddon

 

Oct 082012
 
Building defect insurance claims in Spain

FAILING ARCH WITH SIGNIFICANT STRUCTURAL CRACKING

Making insurance claims against a builder in Spain is not always as simple as it may appear and certainly ensuring that you are successful in any building defect claim – can be fraught!

Sadly, our experience has been that Spanish property owners making a claim against their builders can be faced with a number of complexities.  Firstly, of course, you have to be able to prove that your property has a defect and that it is the responsibility of your builder.   To do this, you will almost certainly need an independent report from a specialist building surveyor able to analyse the building defect and to assess why and how it has occurred – and who is to blame.

It is unwise to rely upon your builder’s assessment, and reporting from the project architect is also often unreliable (typically playing issues down) and a report from an unqualified professional will be completely unpersuasive to an insurance company, let alone a Spanish court.

Of course, you may be covered by your ‘builder’s guarantee’ or Decenal in Spain, if you own a property built within the last ten years.  However, Decenal insurance companies in Spain can be very tardy at paying out for property construction related claims and will often also attempt to downplay the extent of the repairs needed; possibly leaving you with future problems or remedial work that is inadequate.

Indeed, forcing Decenal insurance companies to act properly and to honour their commitments is not for the faint hearted and invariably requires the employment of a specialist surveyor backed up by a litigation lawyer (separate from the insurance company!).

Obviously, in Spain, many foreigners have difficulty asserting themselves properly because of their lack of Spanish and poor knowledge of the Spanish legal system.  This can make processing a claim for defective construction in Spain very difficult and it can prolong the process considerably.

The answer, of course, is to use a bi-lingual building surveyor and bi-lingual lawyer both of whom specialise in insurance claims against builders in Spain.  This is a service that we can provide, backed up by years of experience of tackling construction problems throughout Spain and the islands of Spain.

In fact, we have attended Spanish courts many times on behalf of clients and have successfully prosecuted actions where properties have suffered from a range of defects – from those that have been relatively minor to complete structural failures.

Interestingly, we have also undertaken a lot of work for insurance loss adjusters and so we know how they work, how to present our reports to best effect and where appropriate how to place effective pressure upon insurance companies – so that they take your claim seriously.

If you are concerned about your Spanish property and think that you have a building defect or construction problem then do contact me.  We can make sure that your justified insurance claims against a builder in Spain are processed to maximise your chances of success, providing a one-stop service for you that will remove much of the worry and stress you may feel.

Mark Paddon

Sep 102012
 
Defective retaining wall in Spain

RETAINING WALL COLLAPSE IN SPAIN – INCORRECTLY BUILT!

A problem that I frequently encounter when called to assess building problems is retaining wall collapse in Spain.

Retaining walls (of varying sizes and made of differing materials) are an essential component to the stability of a property in Spain and they are a common sight on estates built upon hilly or steep ground.  However, retaining walls are rarely identified as such by property owners, who often believe that the walls on the boundaries of their properties are primarily there for ascetic reasons.

However, the truth is that many Spanish properties are very dependent on retaining walls for their stability.

Unfortunately, many retaining walls in Spain are not built properly and can collapse with devastating consequences.  This often occurs after a severe rainfall (such as a Gota Fria) – when enormous amounts of water can place a retaining wall under immense pressure.  If the wall has not been properly built then it (or a part of it) can collapse.

Retaining wall dispute Spain

PROPER RESOLUTION TO A DEFECTIVE RETAINING WALL CAN BE COSTLY WHEN A HOUSE STANDS IN THE WAY!

So, before buying a property in Spain on steep ground it is well worth making sure that any retaining walls are properly inspected along with the house itself.  Equally, if you are building a new house in Spain on steep ground then ensure that your builder really does know what he is doing and that he as the knowledge and ability to construct a retaining wall correctly.  This is not as simple as it sounds, if the wall is to be effective long term.

In some cases, retaining walls have been omitted and new properties in Spain sit either above or below cut slopes that are highly prone to collapse or landslides. This can risk lives as well as property and is something about which you should be extremely wary.

Sadly, some unscrupulous developers have sold properties with retaining wall issues to innocent buyers, despite the dangers. This is because the construction in Spain of a proper, load-bearing retaining wall – significantly adds costs to a building project, whilst providing no obvious benefit to the layman.

Structural walls Spain

THIS PROPER, PART COMPLETED REPAIR INCLUDES A COMPLEX PILED AND CANTILEVERED FOUNDATION SYSTEM AND SPECIAL REAR DRAINAGE MEASURES

Needless to say, replacing a retaining wall or rebuilding one can be very expensive.  Indeed, on some properties, the cost can amount to hundreds of thousands of Euros.

Certainly, be warned that there are plenty of builders who will have their own ‘master plan’ as to how to put things right. Often I find their proposals (whilst they mean well) to have errors, that could result in danger to workers and a potential future structural failure. It is always worth seeking an independent opinion on such matters –not least because the stakes are so high!.

Always check (before buying a property in Spain) whether or not the existing retaining wall is adequate – or whether your intended property should have had one in any event!

Finally, if you have doubts about the integrity of your retaining wall or if it is cracking or leaning or showing signs of stress – then contact me as soon as possible.  The collapse of a retaining wall can have huge implications and is one of the building problems in Spain that can require rapid remedial action.

Mark Paddon

Jul 282012
 
Building project Spain

CLAIMING AGAINST A BUILDER IN SPAIN – A SHODDY AND DANGEROUS MAKESHIFT PROP UNDER FAILING BEAM

Much of our work involves the survey and assessment of building defects in Spain and the management of the necessary remedial works.  Running alongside this, of course, is the resolution of construction related disputes, which can involve considerable work.  Indeed, if we become involved in litigation then this can take up considerable time, particularly as we strive to ensure that our clients always have a ‘water-tight’ case that will result in success.

Of course, claiming against a builder in Spain is no easier (in many ways) than it would be in the UK or elsewhere in Northern Europe.  It is also something that is deeply upsetting for property owners as, by definition, they have ended up owning a flawed home – and sometimes a home that is potentially dangerous.

So, we take our responsibilities very seriously indeed and do all possible to resolve a dispute before it goes to court.  This is something that we take great pride in and our lawyers, who are experts in Spanish building disputes, often manage to settle a matter so that any remedial works can be undertaken quickly, before a property owner’s life is left in limbo too long. In some instances the builder will correct issues or contribute funds based on the surveyor’s report alone, i.e. avoiding the need for legal costs.

However, clearly, ‘prevention is better than cure’ and there are ways of managing your building works (even before the start of a project) that can greatly reduce any chance of disputes.  After all, no-one wants to be forced into having to make a claim against their builder in Spain and the aim, surely, for everyone is to have a building project carried out efficiently and to the satisfaction of all involved (including the builder!).

Construction problems in Spain

DAMP FROM ROOF TERRACE DEFECT

What can you do?

Well, over the coming weeks, I shall be Posting the ‘secrets’ to managing a building contract in Spain, which should help you to avoid both inadequate work and the disputes that arise from poor construction in Spain.

Starting a building project in Spain 

The truth is that many claims against builder’s in Spain arise because right from the start of a project there is not absolute clarity about the work to be done.  This means that if a dispute occurs it is often nearly impossible for anyone (let alone a court or construction expert) to know what was really intended by the home owner or agreed to by the builder.

So – before any actual work starts follow the guidelines below:

Before work starts:

1. Develop a clear schedule of works (memoria de trabajo)

This is a highly detailed document that breaks down into defined sections the work that you require to be done. It should be accompanied (always) by drawings and, if possible, pictures or photographs demonstrating what you wish to achieve. Each section of the work should be priced (by the builder) independently.

2.  Write out or obtain a detailed specification (memoria de calidades)

A specification is a series of documents that specify all the materials (their standard, quality and application) to be used. Sometimes a specification can be obtained from surveyors and architects – although normally you will have to pay a modest fee for a specification pertinent to your proposed work.

  1. Translate both the schedule of works and specification into Spanish, if you intend using Spanish builders or asking them for a quotation.
  2. Obtain quotations from three builders (no less!). Make sure that each has an identical copy of both the schedule of works and specification.
  3. Make sure that any quotations state clearly that they are based on the schedule of work and specification. If there are any suggested variations (that make sense to you!), pass these details on to the other builders so that all three can provide figures for exactly the same work.
  4. Do not necessarily take the lowest of the three quotations. Assess the prices provided within each section of the schedule of works and see if there are any major inconsistencies that illustrate ignorance on the part of a builder about a particular aspect.
  5. If you choose a particular builder:
  • Check that he is properly registered (at the town hall) and insured.
  • Draw up a contract (this is best done by your lawyer) and append it to the schedule of works and specification. The contract should itemise:
    • Start and finish dates for the contract.
    • Penalty clauses for time overrun.
    • A schedule of payments based on the stages of completion – including a minimum of 5% -10% retention until after three months of completion.
    • A clause stating that no additional work (‘extras’) will be payable unless itemised, costed and given a time, evidenced in writing, and signed by the builder and yourself.

Of course, the best person to undertake all the above is a professional building surveyor or architect. However, if you decide to manage the work yourself, the above is the minimum you should do (irrespective of the size of the job) to have any chance of a successful project…

Needless to say, if you have a construction problem in Spain or a building dispute – then do contact us as we can help you to resolve your problems through our team of professional and highly qualified experts.

Mark Paddon