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.
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…