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

Jul 262012
 
subsidence in Spain

PROPERTY SUBSIDENCE IN SPAIN: SUBSIDENCE ON CLAY SUBSTRATE

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

SUBSIDING WALL!

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