A Year In The Life Of The President
It seems that many of the British people buying new property here, are buying on large urbanisations outside of the established towns along the coast, and for this reason, most of the articles regarding new property and, specifically, communities, published on Eye on Spain relate to this type of development. We, however, bought a new apartment in a small block in the centre of Torremolinos almost 3 years ago. Whilst this means that all the basic amenities and services were already well established, we have not been without our own little traumas! Since, like Justin (Eye on Spain) I enjoy the dubious honour of having been elected President of our community, I thought I would share some of our experiences with others.
We took possession of our lovely new apartment in January 2004. Although the building was only just completed (albeit behind schedule) and the first occupation licence was yet to be issued by the town hall, we were assured by the developer that this was perfectly normal, and that the licence was a mere formality, and would probably be issued within a couple of weeks. Since we were keen to get out of our rented accommodation, we took him at his word, even though occupying a property before the licence is issued is obviously illegal.
We were reassured by the fact that other buyers, Spanish included, did likewise. One supposed benefit from this situation was that, since the utility companies will not connect individual properties before the licence is issued, we would be using the developer’s electric and water until the town hall got their finger out. However, the developer was of course not obliged to provide these facilities and could withdraw them at any time. Fortunately for us, this did not happen, but we were aware (even if other neighbours weren’t) that this could potentially weaken our bargaining position in the future over other issues with the developer, since they had already supposedly done us a favour and effectively paid for our water and electric – as it turned out in our case, for about six months.
One definite disadvantage was that without the licence, we could not apply for our “vado permanente”, or access permit, for the garage. Being on a busy street in the town centre meant that our garage entrance was permanently blocked. Without a vado there is nothing illegal about parking across entrances to private property. This caused a major headache for us, since finding a space on the street can be almost impossible, which is why we had paid good money for a garage space in the first place.
One apparent advantage of buying in an established urban area was that we had absolutely no problem getting the phone (including ADSL) connected – within 24 hours of contacting Telefonica in fact. None of the horror stories that we read about here. We did have difficulty understanding why the buildings either side of us were receiving mail, whilst we weren’t, until we discovered that a formal application has to be made to the local post office to have mail delivered to a new address. Henceforth, only the usual problems with sporadic deliveries. The postman will only deliver to our building when and if he feels he has accumulated enough mail to make it worth his while stopping by!
Our community comprises just 12 apartments and a commercial locale. There are two British owners, one Scandinavian and one Czech. The rest are Spanish. There are only four owners living in the building year round. Two are rented long term. The rest are used as holiday homes, mostly by Spanish retirees. We are fortunate in that everyone gets on with everyone else and that most of the owners seem very community minded. In short, the perfect recipe for the perfect community. But anyone who has been here any length of time will know that things are never quite that simple.
Our first community meeting was held at the offices of the administrator appointed by the developer on our behalf. We had been issued with an agenda and no doubt all present had various issues which they would have liked to discussed, but one owner in particular had his own agenda. Within seconds of the meeting commencing, Mr.Z (as I shall refer to him, since he hailed from Zaragoza) had launched into a tirade of abuse aimed at the developer, much to everyone else’s astonishment.
His main complaint seemed to be the late delivery of the finished apartments, and the fact that he had apparently paid his final instalment by bank transfer, then driven 1,000 kilometres to sign for the property because the developer told him on the ‘phone that everything was ready, when in fact it was not.
One major bone of contention was the state of the garden, which, far from being planted and prepared, was actually being used as a dumping ground by a neighbouring construction site. This naturally was an issue which everyone was concerned about, but Mr.Z continued with his list of complaints, even down to the fact that the developer had the audacity to decide for us (by way of including it in the statutes) what colour toldos we should have. Eventually Mr.Z. had to be physically restrained, and the meeting rather fizzled out and everyone shuffled off, feeling somewhat bewildered. Nothing worthwhile had been established, beyond appointing a president and vice president.
Within a week or so, the president and vice president spoke to the rest of the owners and it was agreed that we should appoint a new administrator of our own choice, since we had discovered that the original company was in fact a sister company of the developer, and therefore may not be acting in our best interests. We also unanimously felt that the community fees they had set were excessively high, which made us even more suspicious of possible corruption.
A second meeting was convened, with a new administrator. The developer was invited to attend, but sent a representative instead, no doubt not wanting to be confronted by his friend Mr.Z. again. However, within moments of the meeting opening, Mr.Z. launched another vicious verbal attack, this time at the representative. It would appear that this representative had very clear instructions on how to handle such an eventuality. He got up and left, thereby leaving us with no direct way to present our concerns to the developer. For the second time, we were thinking that our negotiating position had been weakened.
The new administrator presented us with a new budget, resulting in a more reasonable quota for each owner to pay. Everyone was happy. The new president took on the responsibility of trying to sort out various existing problems. Everyone was content to let him deal with things, myself included. So much so, in fact, that when he volunteered to continue the role for a second year, everyone was more than happy.
But when it came to our third annual meeting, earlier this year, he announced his resignation. He works long hours, and his wife was expecting their first baby in a few months time, and he said he simply didn’t have the time to do the job any longer. Now, as I mentioned before, there are only three other owners living in the building permanently. One of them had already been vice president for two years. She agreed to continue in that role, but did not want to take on the presidents title. One of them didn’t attend the meeting (I personally believe because he knew there was going to be a new president appointed, and figured his absence would rule him out – although Spanish law obliges all owners to take turns; if nobody volunteers, it’s whoever draws the short straw, so his time will come!)
There was a general consensus of opinion prior to the meeting that I would make an ideal president, despite the fact that I made it quite clear that not only did I not want the job, but also that I felt my less than perfect Spanish would limit my effectiveness. Nevertheless, I found myself “volunteered” for the role, since there were really no viable alternatives. My first act as president was to request that the minutes of the meeting recorded that I accepted the role, on the understanding that my Spanish is not perfect (by a long shot) and that this may at times affect my ability to act in the best interests of the community. A disclaimer, if you like!
And so began my term as president. It would not be long before I discovered just how time consuming a job it can be, even in such a small community. It quickly became apparent that although everybody had been happy to let somebody else take on the responsibility for taking care of the community, this didn’t mean that they didn’t want to have their say. Almost everyone had issues they were unhappy about, but had presumably held back mentioning them for fear of being told to take on the presidency themselves if they didn’t like the way things were being handled. A new president seemed to be the opportunity everyone had been waiting for! Furthermore, it also became immediately obvious that the outgoing president had had a knack for putting things off and avoiding dealing with important issues, using the unarguable excuse that he simply didn’t have enough time. It must, after all, be remembered that the president is an unpaid volunteer.
I personally believe that the president should basically be a spokesman for the community members and as such is responsible for passing on messages to the administrators and bringing to their attention any issues which need dealing with. The real work of maintaining the property should of course be handled by the paid professionals. That’s what they get paid for, right? But more on that later. As I have said before, things rarely turn out to be that simple.
To be continued….