My previous articles told about how I came to be the president of our small community in Torremolinos earlier this year, and how I set about tackling the task. Having gone over the minutes of the annual meeting, I compiled myself a “to do” list, thinking the sooner I could cross all the items off my list, the sooner I could forget about being president and wait for someone else to take over next year.
Some of the issues discussed in the meeting were easy to deal with. One problem that anyone who lives in a community with a swimming pool will no doubt be familiar with, was that of rules governing the use of the pool. Three years ago when we moved into our new building, it never occurred to anybody that, with just twelve apartments, there would be any need for rules. By our second year (after one summer) it was apparent that even in such a small community, problems can arise between neighbours where there are shared facilities.
One family had taken to inviting all their relatives and friends, and friends of friends, to come and use our pool whenever they liked – whether or not they were home themselves. On some occasions there had been a dozen strangers at the pool, which is only about 9m by 3m. The other residents were naturally not happy about this, but nobody wanted to broach the subject directly with the offending party.
Knowing there was a very strong likelihood of being coerced into taking on the presidents role for the coming year and therefore being expected to deal with the problem if and when it arose again the coming summer, I had prepared some rules in advance. This should probably have been done by the administrator the previous year, but as I have said before, and was to find time and again, it often is quicker and easier to do things yourself. The rules were general (no un-accompanied children, no excessive noise etc) and specific – i.e. residents and a limited number of accompanied guests only. To my surprise (and relief) everybody at the meeting unanimously agreed to my proposals. (The offending resident was not present, since they rent their apartment and as such are not invited to attend community meetings and cannot vote on community issues).
And so one of the items on my aforementioned list was to have the newly passed rules posted visibly at the entrance to the pool area, and also mailed to all owners and tenants, so that everybody would be aware of them for the coming summer. Sure enough, this summer there was plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the pool.
Of course, posting rules up around the place does not necessarily mean they will always be obeyed, and nobody wants to live in a community that feels like a prison camp, but having no rules means there’s very little that can be done when one resident behaves in a way that upsets another. It is for this reason that statutes must (by law) be drawn up by the developer of any new community prior to handing over ownership of the property.
However, these statutes are unlikely to be all-encompassing, and new rules can be introduced by voting at community meetings. I have heard many stories of swimming pool anarchy, and I would recommend anyone buying into a new community to raise this issue at the earliest possible opportunity.
Another, perhaps more important matter, was the fact that some local youths had taken to climbing over our garden wall at night and having a dip in the pool. Although it was probably no more than youthful horseplay, the cut of them and their attitude was cause for concern. One of them even had the audacity to come and ring on our doorbell to ask to be let in to the garden to retrieve his baseball cap, which he had dropped when we had chased them away! Some of the neighbours were worried that once in the garden, they had access to the rest of the building, including the underground garage, where they would be able to tamper with cars unobserved.
It had been agreed at our meeting therefore, to erect a 3 metre stretch of wire fence, topped with barbed wire, on the part of the wall where they were entering. Another security measure that had been agreed on, was to fit a spring on the entrance gate to the community, to avoid the gate being left open, often by the postman or visitors. Both seemingly minor jobs, for which I asked the administrator to obtain quotes for.
Our community is too small to justify a full time maintenance man. For some reason (known presumably to the administrator and maybe the first president), we employ a cleaner and a separate gardener, neither of whom are contracted to do anything beyond changing a light bulb when it comes to maintenance.
One of our neighbours had apparently struck a deal with the developer, before anybody took possession of their keys, to take on the job of cleaning, gardening, pool and general maintenance. On the one hand, this could have been a good idea, since he would have had a vested interest in the upkeep of our community, whereas very often, I believe, workers see community jobs as easy money, since usually nobody supervises or checks up on their work. On the other hand, when this arrangement was announced to us at our first meeting (with the developer), nobody knew whether this neighbour would be any good at the job, and it was pointed out that if he took on the role and turned out to be unsatisfactory, it would be very awkward to deal with.
As a result, we have a slightly unsatisfactory system in place, and one disgruntled community member who feels cheated out of a job he had already been promised, and offended that his neighbours don’t trust him. Unfortunately, he is now also unwilling to help out in any way. When I recently asked him if he could help me with a small job, I got a very negative response to the effect that his time was valuable (as if mine isn’t!) and that it’s not his responsibility to carry out any jobs around the place.
Politics! Incidentally, I’m talking about the same person who skipped the last community meeting, to avoid being voted in as president! I’m sure it is quite common in communities, that there are some members who feel their responsibility ends with paying their dues. At the same time, there are others who believe that the president is personally responsible for everything. Someone kindly pointed out to me that if we erected a fence to keep out the local kids, and one of them injured themselves trying to get over it, I would be the one to face the music in the ensuing court case. (I have heard some pretty incredible stories about the law here in Spain, so nothing would actually surprise me. Any legal experts out there care to advise me on this?)
To return to the subject of getting outside contractors in for various jobs, I found I was making so many calls to the administrator to remind him to get the necessary quotes, that in the end it was quicker to do it myself. For the small jobs mentioned before, the problem was finding someone interested in doing them at a sensible price – something many readers will be familiar with.
I’m no DIY expert, but fixing a spring to a gate, for example, is something I could easily manage myself, and would certainly not consider paying someone else for if I lived in an independent property. But should the president be taking on such things, in order to save a few euros for the community? Clearly not. Fortunately, my Mexican friend offered to do the jobs quicker and cheaper than anyone else, and no backhanders involved either! Needless to say, there were still the inevitable critics after the work was completed. It seems there is always someone who could have got it done cheaper/quicker/better, but strangely never offered to help get the quotes in the first place. Indeed, why not be president and show us how easy it is?
But of course, if you only visit a couple of times a year, there’s no point taking on the role. How I would have loved to tell these people to either do it themselves, or shut up and put up. Could it be that the stress of being president was already getting to me? And I hadn’t even started on the bigger issues yet!
One of these issues was the state of our communal garden. At the time we took possession of our apartment, a neighbouring construction site was using what should have been our garden, as a dumping ground for all sorts of surplus materials. When the dividing wall between the properties was finally built, we had a battle with our developer to return to finish the garden properly.
Having bought our apartment as a resale (albeit prior to completion), we never actually saw the original plans or specification for the garden, and never thought to ask about it. It seems that even those who bought off-plans don’t have any concrete description of what the developer should have delivered, which presumably made it harder for the first president and the administrator to push the matter. Several months after moving in, contractors arrived to put a thin layer of soil over the ground, plant a few shrubs around the perimeter, and throw some grass seed down.
Over the next couple of years, the “garden” was attended to twice a week by the gardener, who approached his job with an attitude of resignation. He watered it, but maintained that it needed watering far more. A few patches of grass began to grow, but not as much as people’s anger at the developer for not having cleared the rubble before putting down a deeper layer of soil, and planting our deserved Garden of Eden.
By the time I took over the presidency this year, the garden had improved marginally, but was still pretty poor by any standards. It was obvious that whatever efforts had previously been made to get the developer to sort it out had failed. Furthermore, they now had the perfect get-out. If we had accepted their administration, they would have provided a better gardener, on a more frequent basis, and we would now have a perfect garden. The current state of it was due to our own lack of maintenance over the two years since they planted it.
Although most of us believed that the ground was basically barren, our own gardener had always insisted that the only problem was a lack of frequent watering, so we decided that an automated irrigation system would be the only way to test the theory (since we could not afford a daily visit from the gardener).
I set about obtaining quotes for the biggest job we would have to face to date, to supplement the quotes which I knew not to expect from the administrator’s office. Our garden is not large (many private villas have more land) but I was amazed at how much the first three quotes varied, in price and specification. I decided I would need some more comparisons, but by the time I had seven, I was more confused than ever!
The whole business became increasingly time consuming, and I became increasingly stressed and nervous about making the wrong decision. Eventually, with the help of the vice president, we chose one that appeared both economical and comprehensive, and more importantly, promised to have the work done within a couple of weeks, since summer was fast approaching, and the garden and pool would be in use daily.
The result? Like so much else here, you’ll have to wait….until the next instalment of a year in the life of the president!