Not long after assuming the role of president, a problem arose which I didn’t expect to get involved in, namely that of tenants who rent property in the community. Every owner is entitled to rent out their property, but the president is only the representative of the owners, and as such any problems involving tenants should theoretically be directed through their landlords. Of course, as a resident in the community I make an effort to get on with all my neighbours, irrespective of whether they own or rent their home (or garage), and I have no objection to talking to tenants about the community – after all, they live here and have the same rights to use and enjoy the property as anybody else. However, a couple of situations arose which I got dragged into when it was not strictly my responsibility to do so.
The first instance involved the garage. We have an automated gate at the top of the ramp from the garage to the street, which is hinged on one side, and opens inwards. The gate is controlled by a remote control. There is an infrared sensor on the gate, so that if your car is across the entrance, the gate will not close. But when someone decided to stop on the ramp (maybe to chat on their mobile?) with the gate at the top open but the car not actually across the entrance, after a period, (which I timed at one minute) the gate proceeded to close, striking the front wing of the car.
The driver happened to rent a garage space from one of my neighbours. Feeling that he was not at fault, he naturally wanted someone to blame. He contacted the owner of the garage place, and told him the gate was malfunctioning and that he would have to
compensate him for the damage to his car. The owner, not wanting to get involved or even bother checking the circumstances, passed the buck, thinking that if the gate was malfunctioning, it was a community issue. Enter the president! Somehow I got roped into going to meet the driver of the car and investigating exactly what had happened. I quickly established that the gate was functioning correctly (as it had been for a couple of years already), and that since nobody else had had a similar problem, the accident was basically down to the driver’s own negligence. This was obviously not what he wanted to hear, and he became very irate, threatening all sorts of legal (and some decidedly illegal) action against me, as if I was now somehow responsible.
In due course, the administrator received a letter from the driver’s insurance company, saying that they wanted to claim from the community for the damage to their client’s car. I had to spend time explaining the circumstances to the administrator, and drawing diagrams and giving explanations as to how the gate functions, which we sent to the insurance company, expressing our opinion that the community were not in any way at fault. To this day, we have never heard anything more from this company, or the driver, who still rents his garage space, but always gives me a nasty glare whenever he sees me!
Incredibly, shortly after this incident, almost exactly the same thing happened with another two cars. This time one of the drivers had stopped on the ramp on his way in. Again, the gate had swung shut, hitting the car, this time on the rear wing. Had the car still been across the entrance, the gate would not have closed. The driver tried to claim the infrared sensor was not working, but if his car had been breaking the line of the sensor, the gate would have hit the car on the front door, not the rear wing. I know, because I took measurements! The other driver claimed that the accident was due to his remote control being faulty, and I had to explain that the remote control, like his key to the front entrance of the building, is not the property nor the responsibility of the community. Perhaps he just needed to change the battery.
Infuriatingly for me, both drivers were again renting their spaces, and I was beginning to get fed up with having to deal with the grievances of other people’s tenants. Again, the owners of the spaces didn’t want to get involved, and one of them instead contacted the administrator asking for the community insurance details, which he then freely passed on to his tenant, who proceeded to try to claim for his damage. My concern this time was that, since the damage was fairly slight, our insurance company may just decide it would be easiest to pay out. However, most insurance companies here in Spain will increase the next year’s premium if you make more than three claims in a year, and I wanted to ensure, on behalf of the community, that we would not end up getting penalised for events which were not our responsibility. Again, to date, nothing more has come of either of these incidents.
As a result, I had notices posted in the garage in very visible locations, explaining in detail how to operate the gate to avoid such problems, a kind of idiots guide to entering and exiting the garage! It seemed strange, but for over two years nobody had had any problem with the gate, then within a short space of time the three drivers who did have accidents were all renting their spaces. I wrote to all owners of garage spaces, including with the letter my instructions, and stressed that anyone renting their garage space out must accept responsibility for their own tenants. Of course, if the community had been at fault, we would have had to deal with it, but in that case, it should still be an issue between the community and one of it’s members. I don’t believe that the president should have to deal direct with tenants, who after all, do not pay their rent to the community. I should never have had to get involved with these tenants, who probably now all blame me personally for the scruffy state of their cars! Incidentally, since my letter and notices, there have been no further problems with the garage.
I became involved in another situation with tenants, this time of one of the apartments. There appear to be at least two young couples living in this particular apartment, although they have many other visitors during the day. They all work in various “100 peseta” shops around the area. From the comings and goings, it was obvious that the apartment was also being used for storing box loads of stock for the shops. Whilst this may contravene the rules governing the use of the apartments laid out in the statutes, this in itself did not present a problem.
The problem was in fact cockroaches. The neighbours to each side, and immediately above this apartment, started noticing cockroaches, and quickly established the source. It was immediately apparent that they were arriving en masse in the boxes that were being stored. The affected neighbours wanted me, as president, to confront these tenants. They are not Spanish, and speak very little Spanish and no English, but we managed to communicate somehow, and they admitted freely, that, yes, they have “loads” of ‘roaches, but didn’t seem particularly bothered. They were happy to allow me in to see boxes literally stacked from floor to ceiling, and what can only be described as a plague of cockies.
I explained the situation regarding the storage of commercial goods, and eventually they agreed that professional fumigation was needed. One of the neighbours arranged for all four apartments to be fumigated, at a cost of 100 euros each, but when it came to time to pay, the tenants didn’t seem to understand that they were responsible for the infestation, and thought the community were paying for this service. They finally agreed to pay 100 euros for their apartment, but the other neighbours had to pay for theirs.
On behalf of these affected neighbours, I asked the administrator to contact the owner of the property. Legally, the owner is responsible for any activity which affects the right of other owners to use and enjoy their property, regardless of whether they live in it themselves, or rent it out. We were hoping that the owner would reimburse the other neighbours for their fumigation, or at least force her tenants to, and also to instruct the tenants to remove the offending boxes from the apartment. What nobody expected, was for the owner to say that her tenants were “good payers”, and as such she had no problem with them and no intention of speaking to them at all. She even suggested that we should feel free to take legal action against the tenant if we so desired, but since she steadfastly refused to disclose the name of the official tenant as named on the rental contract, it made this virtually impossible.
The administrator has indicated that taking any kind of legal action against the owner will be very long winded and costly, with no guarantee of success. The sanitation department at the town hall seem to say that without an official request by a court to inspect the apartment, they are powerless to act, and we are now looking at the possibility of seeing if the fire department may declare the storage of so many cardboard boxes a fire hazard. But even if they remove the boxes, the cockroaches will remain. As yet, this situation has not been resolved, and the terrace of the apartment is now also piled high with boxes!