Sep 102012
Defective retaining wall in Spain


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


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


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 262012
subsidence in Spain


Unfortunately, property subsidence in Spain is not uncommon.  Indeed, shockingly, some new build properties have been built on lesser foundations than even older properties – making it extremely important to have a survey of a Spanish property (prior to purchase) even when it is brand new.

The trouble, of course, is that the Spanish building boom was so extensive and rampant that the quality of construction varied enormously.  Some of it was superb but much of it was indifferent and some was quite appalling, with some disreputable builders saving money on critical aspects of a construction, such as the foundations.

Meanwhile, some estates were built on wholly unsuitable land, leading to major subsidence problems.  Indeed, the practice of building on `leftover’ sites (often comprising poor ground conditions) has meant that some properties are located on very steep, unstable ground, on backfill, deep clay or in flood plains.  In some extreme cases, properties block natural flash flood water courses!

Sadly, building control in Spain during the boom years was also erratic and sometimes even involved false ‘geo-technical ground surveys’, which has resulted, occasionally, in serious under-specification of foundations. This can cause movement to occur early in the life of a building and is very expensive to correct.

Of course, older Spanish housing can be affected by subsidence as well.  Indeed, whilst a Spanish property may show few signs of movement in its early years, long term ground erosion, seasonal shrinkage or heave (often amplified in a rare very wet or very dry year) can reveal problems suddenly.

Property movement in Spain


Certainly, just because a property is well finished does not mean that the foundations are secure or were properly completed.  Indeed, I often see the attempted cover up of property movement in Spain whilst undertaking surveys – although sometimes these indications usually need a trained eye to interpret them correctly as signs of movement rather than something innocuous.

The good news is that if you are the owner of a new build property (built within the last ten years!) then you should have a ten year insurance backed builder’s guarantee (Seguro Decenal) – which will allow you to claim for problems caused by structural movement.

The Seguro Decenal came into force in May 2000 – and so you should check whether your policy is still valid (or close to expiring!).  If it is close to expiring then it is a very good idea to have a pre-Decenal expiry building survey to see if you have building defects (such as subsidence) about which you can claim before your Decenal ceases to offer you any protection.

Certainly, if your builder’s guarantee (Decenal policy) is about to expire then I would advise you to act quickly.  Claiming on your policy can be a slow process and it can require specialist legal support if you are to enforce the insurers to honour the terms of the policy!

Naturally, many properties in Spain do not have Decenal insurance – in which case you will probably have to ‘foot the bill’ for any remedial works.  This is very unfortunate but I would stress that ‘time is of the essence’ and that as soon as you suspect that you may have property subsidence in Spain that you act quickly to have a proper building survey.  The latter may establish that nothing is wrong or allow you to undertake remedial works well before further (more significant) damage to your house can occur.

If you think you have a problem then do contact us

Mark Paddon