Nov 142012
 
Subsidence and heave in Spain

HOUSE MOVEMENT IN SPAIN CAN BE DRAMATIC!

Few things are more disturbing for an owner of Spanish property than to have a house suffering from movement.  This is enough to send most people into a panic – and understandably so.

That said, I have also come across property owners who have house movement in Spain who have clearly been in denial for years.  This is, invariably, not sensible.  Like most things in life, the sooner a problem is faced up to and dealt with the better and, in the case of property movement, this is essential, for three reasons.

Firstly, although rare, property movement can lead to the collapse of a part or all of a house.  So, ignoring movement or signs of movement can end up endangering lives.

Secondly, swift remedial action can save time and money, as the damage to a building can be restricted by immediate action.

Thirdly, if a Spanish property is less than ten years old then you should be able to claim against your Decenal insurance policy (the Builder’s Guarantee in Spain).  This should mean that your Decenal insurer will bear the costs of the remedial work required to return your house to its proper state.  Of course, leave your notification to your insurer for too long and your Decenal policy may expire – leaving you to pay for all the work!

WHAT TO DO – IF YOU THINK YOUR HOUSE IS SUFFERING FROM MOVEMENT IN SPAIN

1.  Contact an independent building surveyor for an assessment

2.  Check to see if you have a valid Decenal policy

3.  Provide your Decenal insurer (if you have one) with a copy of your independent surveyor’s report

4. Formalise this process via an experienced lawyer or at least copy them in on your communications with the Decenal insurers.

There are many reasons why house movement in Spain occurs.  However, usually it is connected directly to the foundations (or lack of them!) upon which a house lies.  If foundations are not adequate then, by definition, a property will not be stable and move.  This is particularly true of properties built on steep slopes or upon ground that is inappropriate for housing (land fill sites being a good example).

Indications of property movement in Spain

Of course, before any construction of a house takes place there should be a geo-technical survey, the results of which should define the suitability of the ground for building and the type of foundations required for a given type of property.  This is essential, for example, where the substrate is clay –a substance that naturally expands and contracts (producing heave and subsidence, respectively) dependent upon its moisture content over the course of time.

Needless to say, building control during the long Spanish property boom was sometimes less than satisfactory.  Worse still, in some cases, geotechnical reports were falsified, so that properties could be built where the land was not suitable.  Meanwhile, on occasions, foundations for Spanish houses have not always ben correctly constructed.  Sometimes this has been caused by ignorance and carelessness on the part of builders and sometimes a deliberate ploy to save money (foundations can be a very expensive part of a house build!).

Professional assessment, remedial advice and litigation help for property movement

Not all cracks in a property, of course, are the result of serious movement.  Indeed, often cracks and ‘signs’ of movement in Spanish properties are the result of natural settlement and thermal drying – which is not something to worry about.

So, do not panic as soon as you see ‘signs’ of movement in your property.  They may be benign.

However, assessing whether cracks and ‘signs’ of movement are serious or not and represent a major problem is not something for anyone not specifically trained in structural surveying of properties.  Indeed, investigating whether and why a property is moving is a complicated process and one in which even minor cracks can sometimes be signs of significant underlying problems.

Our services – professional building surveyor and construction litigation lawyer

Fortunately, there are many ways of dealing with property movement and defective foundations.  There are excellent systems available to rectify property foundation problems and, in the vast majority of cases, houses that suffer from movement or poor foundations can be fully restored to their intended state.

So – do not think that the ‘end of the world’ has come when you have (or think you have!) property movement.  With the right help and advice, most problems can be sorted out to your satisfaction and the long term well-being of your property.

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 022012
 
Property Structural defects in Spain

GEOTECHNICAL INVESTIGATION OF GROUND UNDERNEATH A PROPERTY – ESSENTIAL WORK!

Unfortunately, property movement in Spain is not uncommon.  There are many reasons for this, including defective geotechnical surveys and inadequate foundations – either of which can lead to a Spanish property suffering from serious subsidence or heave.

Since 2000 all new build properties (with a few exceptions) must have a Decenal 10 year, insurance backed guarantee to protect property owners against structural instability.  As a part of the Decenal (sometimes known as the Builder’s Guarantee), a geotechnical study of the ground must be commissioned  by the builder, developer or architect to ensure that a plot is capable of providing a stable area for an intended property and ascertain the correct foundation system.

Pre-build bore testing (in two or more places on the plot) using a core drill, is undertaken by geotechnical experts to investigate the make-up of the ground substrates, level of firm ground, moisture content, propensity to shrink or heave etc. The core samples are then taken back to a laboratory for more detailed assessment, from which a geotechnical report is produced. The report may suggest the type of foundations most suited to the ground conditions – or even state that the ground is unsuitable for the construction of properties.   So the geotechnical report is extremely important and a vital component in the design and build of any property in Spain.

However, not all geotechnical reports in Spain are carried out to the same stringent standards and (in my experience) some geotechnical reports have a habit of going missing when there is a court action – indicating that the proper survey was not carried out or was known to be defective.

Of course, if your property suffers from subsidence or heave in Spain then this is a serious matter and one that, unavoidably, needs urgent attention.  In reality, you may be facing a minor problem (and sometimes not a problem at all!) – or you may have a serious progressive structural issue that requires considerable work to resolve. Most builders and architects involved in your build will state that ‘it’s normal settlement’ and ‘its nothing to worry about’ – often then filling the cracks. Do not accept this diagnosis before you have had a second and independent opinion!

Property subsidence in Spain

CORE SAMPLES FROM A GEOTECHNICAL SURVEY

The trouble is that any resolution of your property movement may be complicated by the need to start a court action to force your Decenal insurers to take any property movement seriously and pay for the necessary remedial works.  I would stress the ‘necessary’ remedial works because it is not unknown for insurers to try to minimise the work required to resolve any structural defects caused by movement.

Certainly, if you do have property movement in Spain then you should employ a professional surveyor to ensure that the reason for your movement is correctly identified.  This invariably requires a detailed investigation of a property (trial opening of foundation areas may be typical), proper crack monitoring (note that commonly used patches of plaster often applied by architects here are not reliable!) and an expert  geotechnical study is sometimes also required to check that the property has been built on adequate ground – and with proper foundations.

Meanwhile, taking court action in Spain is not for the faint hearted and must be done by a specialist litigation lawyer, who is familiar with construction litigation in Spain and can prepare a winning case, should court action be necessary.  This is certainly not something that a non-litigation lawyer should attempt and you would be very unwise not to seek expert help – given the very considerable amounts at stake.

At Building Defects Spain, we are specialists in property movement and building defects litigation.  This forms a considerable part of our daily work and we can provide you with unparalleled advice and assistance if you do have subsidence or heave.

So, if you think you have property movement in Spain then do contact us.  We can provide you with all the help that you need from an initial survey through to a geotechnical investigation (as required), a detailed report on the necessary remedial works and management of the corrective works.  We can also provide you with a specialist (bi-lingual and bi-qualified) litigation lawyer – who specialises in building defects legal actions in Spain and with whom we have worked closely for years.

Mark Paddon

Sep 212012
 
Property movement in Spanish properties

THE SUDDEN COLLAPSE OF A BALCONY AFTER MANY YEARS OF DECAY

There are many reasons why property movement and cracking in Spain can cause a property to become unstable.  Sometimes this is due to subsidence but this is not always the case.  Indeed, a relatively common problem in Spanish properties can be due to the decay of the steel reinforcement used in the construction of the property itself.

Many properties in Spain (whether houses or flats) have a ferro-concrete construction.  This means that steel is used to reinforce the concrete used in building the property.  So, for example, steel rods are surrounded by concrete to give the concrete strength for walls, foundations, ceiling and roof slabs as well as beams.  Meanwhile, some properties have a steel beam construction.  This is then enclosed with blocks or brickwork.

Obviously, it is important that the steel within a property is correctly connected and protected from damp so as not to lose its integrity.  This is very important because if the steel within a property is defective in any way (or becomes defective) then there is a possibility of serious collapse.  This may only occur within a particular section of the property concerned but it could stress other areas and can lead to a complete collapse of a building.

The process of steel reinforcement decay in Spain can be slow and is therefore always more prevalent and advanced in older properties. Steel decay can result eventually in structural failure in floors – and even whole apartment blocks have been known to fail. Normally, professional inspection will identify initial signs of decay, so that repairs can be made. However, these repairs are invariably expensive and complicated, and advanced decay can mean that substantial rebuilding is required. In some cases, the concrete itself may be sub-standard or even mixed with salt water and beach sand in coastal locations (albeit in rare cases).

Although new build properties in Spain rarely show signs of reinforcement corrosion – ventilation or surface protection may well have been omitted. In this case, some new properties can be at a high risk of decay in the future.

Common structural problems with Spanish properties

CONCRETE BEAMS LOSE MUCH OF THEIR STRENGTH AS DECAY ADVANCES

Unfortunately, in much Spanish building, standard practice precautions to protect steel were commonly ignored during earlier developments and sometimes during the more recent property boom. This was combined, all too often, with poor building control and sometimes, inadequate knowledge on the part of those actually constructing properties. So, even new builds should be inspected professionally to ensure that reinforced steel work has been correctly installed and protected for the long-term security of a building.

Of course, if you have any signs of property movement and cracking in Spain then you should react quickly to have a professional assessment of the problem.  I would stress the word ‘professional’ as assessing whether a property has a genuine problem and what that problem has been caused by is not something that should ever be undertaken by an unqualified person.

Indeed, assessing Spanish property movement and subsidence is far from simple.  Some homes may have signs of property movement and cracking in Spain and yet these can turn out to be of no concern and merely the results of normal thermal cracking or ageing.  On the other hand, some quite minor signs of problems can be an indication of a serious issue that requires prompt attention.

Mark Paddon