It’s not been quite like the search for Bin Laden, but we have been scouring all case law databases for the last couple of years trying to find any ruling that would point to the direction of the banks’ liability to refund property buyers, in the event of developers falling foul of their obligations to refund deposits, where the latter had accounts opened with the former and were using them to trade in property, irrespective of whether bank guarantees were available or special accounts opened at all, these being the 2 main obligations developer’s had, in accordance to the 57/1968 Act on Off-Plan Property Down Payments (Ley 57/1968, de 27 de julio, reguladora de las percepciones de cantidades anticipadas en la construcción y venta de viviendas).
One very web-active colleague that was initially admitting to having the evasive case law but was reluctant to disclose it (we still don’t know if they really have any of it), is instead now hinting that there was something to that effect, always in a vague but nonetheless “mercantile” manner, so as to no doubt monopolize the information and release it with a big bang when the time was right (all very strange, really). A website with a pretended interest in helping thousands who have lost thousands to rogue developers also claimed this case law existed but my insistent requests to have a copy of such ruling were left unresponded.
And then, just by chance, we have come across a ruling, written up by the Judge in charge of Court of First Instance number 54 in Madrid, that finds a bank responsible of being irresponsible and forces it to repay a buyer who bought into a development that was never completed. We have asked for a copy of the ruling from our Madrid colleague who, as we expected, has kindly and promptly acceded to forward us one, after the long-weekend, that is. Once we have received it, we will discuss it, as it has the potential to set a precedent that can make banks responsible in any event, where they consented developers to use their accounts to trade in property, without securing the deposits that were being paid into those accounts by customers. In the ruling, the Judge determined that the bank manager, who knew the buyer personally, had lent him the deposit that was to be invested with the developer, who was also his client. The Judge found the developer’s bank (and buyer’s lender) morally responsible because it knew that the loan was to be used to buy a property, and consented that the loan was paid directly into the developer’s account, which, known to the bank, did not comply with the 57/1968 Act. Indeed, all very incestuous!
It is soon to draw conclusions but I can say that:
- The ruling has not been appealed, presumably to avoid the inevitable publicity it would attract if it went to a higher judicial instance, in this case, the Provincial Audience (quoting my colleague).
- The case is specific, in that the bank assisting the developer was also the lender for the buyer, perfectly knew that the funds were going to be used as a deposit for offplan property, and allowed these funds to be lodged in one of their accounts.
- According to our Madrid colleague, barring error or omission, there is no known case law on the matter (note that a ruling of a Court of First Instance is not deemed as case law).
Another consequence of this rulling is that a developer may force banks to advance funds to complete unfinished developments as, if unprotected buyers can find solace in this doctrine, so should the developer (although that’s another story altogether).
This ruling can be the beginning of the end of the nightmares many bona fide buyers have and are going through. My advice is, in any event, to apply caution and prudence, until we can get hold of it (ruling) and have it read, dissected, interpreted and, ultimately, draw reasoned and balanced conclusions on how to proceed.
It should be stressed that this is a very specific case, with a very particular set of circumstances that render it unique, and cannot be considered of general application against all banks and developers (at least with what we have so far). Each case we come across needs to be analised thoroughly and clients advised that losing it will almost invariably attract subtantial legal costs (and certainly where a claim is deemed to be ”reckless”).