My year as President is almost over. I should say, my first year, since it seems inevitable that I will be “volunteered” to continue in the role for another year. I should take this as a compliment I suppose, but the reality is that there are very few alternatives. We are a small community, and there are only a handful of owners who are actually resident here year round. There would not be much point having an absentee president, any more than having a president who has no interest in the upkeep of the community. I do have an interest. I have invested in property here, and want to protect that investment, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the past year, it’s that the best way to get a job done, is to do it yourself. However, it can be a thankless task at the best of times.
In my first article of this series, I mentioned that when our community was first established three years ago, we, like many new communities, quickly dispensed of the administrators appointed by the developer, since we felt there was a potential clash of interests. How do you find an alternative? How do you know if the new choice will be any good? I have spent a lot of time over the last year with our administrator. On the whole, I think they do an adequate job, and they are very accessible and easy to get on with. However, I have frequently been frustrated by how much time I have to spend, reminding them of what they are supposed to be doing. Many times, I have found it quicker and simpler to do things myself. I have recently had to review the accounts and work on a new budget for the next year, in preparation for our forthcoming AGM, the first that I will be chairing. It would have been so much easier and less time consuming had the administrator used spreadsheets!
Most of the issues discussed in last year’s meeting have been dealt with. The cleaner is doing a good job, and is happy in her work. The automatic irrigation system (installed at great expense) has literally transformed the garden from a desert into a very pleasant communal area. A new security fence seems to have stopped unwanted intruders getting into our garden and pool. The rules for the pool were introduced before last summer, and we have had no problems in that area since. Everybody has paid their community fees up to date – they always do just before a meeting is due. (I met the president of another community at the administrator’s office today. He is having to deal with taking five members to court over community fees unpaid for a year. Thank goodness I’m not in his position). So on the whole, I feel reasonably content. But there are still outstanding issues, and there will always be new problems to deal with.
The most serious unresolved matter is that of the underground garage flooding every time we have heavy rainfall. Although this is due to inadequate drainage in the street, the administrator has so far not managed to get anywhere with the town hall. Only because I have continued to press him on this issue, have we now set about obtaining quotes from contractors to install a pump system that will keep the garage dry, which we will then present to the town hall/water board in the hope that they will find this a more attractive proposition than digging up the roads and replacing all the drainage pipes with larger capacity ones, and will foot the bill accordingly.
Another problem still to be sorted out, is that of the tenant who is storing mountains of cardboard boxes in their apartment, containing merchandise for their shops, but also, and more worryingly, an army of cockroaches that is spreading to neighbouring properties. The administrator was going to contact the fire department, to see if they could force the tenant to remove the boxes, on the grounds of them being a fire risk. In the last couple of weeks it came to my attention that the fire alarms and extinguishers in our building have never been serviced since new. This would almost certainly invalidate our insurance in the event of a fire, and also makes it a little tricky telling a tenant that they are posing a threat. Like I said, there are constantly new, unexpected issues arising. How the administrator allowed this one to slip through the net, I don’t know. Frankly I find it rather worrying. As a layman, I depend on the administrator to ensure that we as a community comply with all relevant laws and regulations. Incidentally, the owner of the apartment in question still steadfastly refuses to have anything to do with the problem that their tenant is causing.
Another incident involving a tenant occurred recently, which again I had to get involved in, when strictly speaking it should have been the owner of the apartment dealing with it. This is a subject that may well affect many readers, namely satellite television.
Many communities have a communal satellite dish already installed, but when an individual resident wishes to install a different type of dish in a communal area, such as on the roof, permission must be sought from the community by the owner of the property first. I came home one day to find the tenant of one of the apartments on the roof with a couple of very unprofessional satellite TV technicians, almost finished installing a new dish. Another neighbour was outside arguing with the tenant, saying he was in breach of community rules since he had not obtained permission. The tenant claimed he had in fact asked his landlord for permission, who had given it. Unfortunately, the landlord had not bothered to seek permission from the community. I had to step in and adjudicate, and calm everyone down. Once again I found myself dealing with residents who felt they could do whatever they like, and owners who refuse to take responsibility (as the law dictates) for their tenants.
Shortly after this episode, another neighbour, who had got wind of the argument, informed me that he had seen our roof from another building, and spotted several broken roof tiles in the vicinity of the new dish, and wanted to know what I proposed doing about it. In all probability these broken tiles were caused by the workmen the tenant had hired, but since there were a couple of other dishes and aerials in the same area, there was no way to prove this. In the end I had to arrange to repair the broken tiles out of community funds. Had the tenant, and more specifically the landlord, followed the correct procedure, I would have had the chance to check out the roof area before the installation and allocate a suitable location for the tenant to use. This way, any damage caused would have been easier to attribute to the workmen hired by the tenant, and they could have been held accountable.
Being a small community has it’s pros and cons. I have got to know most of the owners (all except a couple who have rented their properties long-term), and I am pleased to say that we all get on very well. The downside of this is that I am not afforded the anonymity of the president in a large community, and there is nowhere to hide when people want to air their grievances. Usually these are well intentioned. Fortunately, the majority of my neighbours are also keen to have a well-kept community, but as such have a tendency to take every opportunity to make suggestions as to what we should be doing by way of improvements and maintenance.
One retired Spanish couple spend most of the year in their pueblo in the wilds of Extremadura, and each time they come to stay in their holiday home, one of the first things they do is come knocking at my door. They arrived last week, after a three month absence, bringing gifts of olives and cheese from their tierra, of which they are immensely proud. They say beware of Greeks bearing gifts….nothing about Spanish campesinos though! After the usual exchange of pleasantries, they then launched into their list of questions and suggestions on how things should be done. It’s hard to explain to them that I already spend a disproportionate amount of my time dealing with community matters, and don’t need any more jobs to take on. About the on-going problem with the garage, my explanation that many letters have been sent and that the administrator is in the process of handling the problem, fell on deaf ears. Back in their village, they have personally known the Mayor since he was in short trousers, and they could not understand my reluctance to accept their kind offer to accompany me in the morning to the Mayor’s office to “fix” things once and for all.
It is often not easy getting things done here, especially as a foreigner, but I have tried hard to do the best job of being president that I can. I think most of my fellow owners appreciate that. As in all communities, inevitably, there are one or two members who remain decidedly apathetic when it comes to community issues. This can actually be just as frustrating as the owners who stop and ask me, in passing, if I could have a word with the people in the apartment directly above them, because the noise of them walking around is disturbing them. (You guessed it, the same old couple from Extremadura!) Sometimes it feels like it’s just one thing after another, and that there’s no peace in your own home.
The hot topic on the agenda for the upcoming meeting is finances. I will be proposing, and taking a vote on, a system to penalise late payers of community fees, since we have been struggling with cash flow problems for the past several months. I don’t envisage any protests, since the offending parties almost certainly will not bother attending anyway.
I will also have to explain the dire state of our overall financial position. This is due in large part to the administrator’s “creative” accounting, which a year ago lead us all to believe we had a very healthy bank balance, when in fact this was far from the truth. I am not quite sure how I will put this across, while the administrator is sitting next to me, but it’s either that or take the rap for authorising spending money we didn’t have on improvements such as the automatic watering system for the garden (which we unquestionably needed). Our budget, and therefore everyone’s individual contributions, have remained unchanged for three years, so there shouldn’t be too much protest at the increase I will be presenting, but we also have a deficit which needs clearing, and for this I will be asking each owner to contribute a (hopefully) one-off extra-ordinary payment.
I would like to offset this with some good news. The only thing I have to offer, is that I’ll take on the presidency for another year, thus relieving anybody else of having to do it! If you own a holiday home here in Spain and only visit occasionally, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be expected to be president of your community. If on the other hand you live, or are planning to live here permanently, legally you could be obliged to take it on at some time.
Perhaps if you are retired, or can afford the time, would like a new challenge and fancy giving it a go, you may earn the respect of your neighbours, especially the Spanish, by volunteering for a job which generally nobody wants. It’s an excellent way to learn more about how a community in Spain functions (or not, as the case may be); it’s also a good way to get to know your neighbours better (which can be a mixed blessing!), and to feel like you are integrating more into the Spanish way of life.
Would I actually go as far as recommending being president to anyone?
Not even my worst enemy!