Nov 142012
Subsidence and heave in Spain


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!


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