When you own a property in Spain, you will most probably belong to a community of owners or residents association, except where your property is a detached house and not within an urbanización. If your property is on a development run by a residents’ association, membership is obligatory and so are the payments of fees for management, the maintenance of common areas and for common utilities.
In Spain, the legal aspects of the organisation and the administration of communities of owners are regulated by the Horizontal Property Law (Ley de Propiedad Horizontal). This law also regulates the action that the community can take when any of the owners refuse to pay the community fees or any additional fees that are claimed, for example extraordinary maintenance work.
The fees must be paid by the owners whether they agree or not to the decisions made by the community. There is a democratic process in which the owners can oppose the community in the resident’s association’s meetings, but once the decision is final, the owners, by law, have to pay and cannot turn round and say: “I disagree with the community of owners, therefore I will not pay.”
When any of the owners refuse to pay three or more instalments, the community administration can call an extraordinary meeting in order to clarify any disagreements and to decide on a repayment method.
After this, if no agreement is reached, the president or the community administrator can, by law, claim the money judicially by starting legal action at the local court. If this is the case, it is highly recommended to use the services of a lawyer due to the complexity of the procedure, although it is not compulsory. Any legal costs and interests will be added to the sum owed by the non-paying owner.
In order to start legal action against any of the owners, the community must first agree to do so during a General Meeting. The owner in question must be notified of the decision in a letter signed by the Secretary, the President and the Administrator. It is best to send the notification by Burofax, which certifies the content and acknowledges receipt of the letter.
After this, the community can denounce the owner at the local civil court. Once the legal action has started the judge will notify the non-paying owner that he has to pay the community within 20 days. This process is called Proceso Monitorio. Within this time frame, he has the possibility to appear in front of the judge and to declare in writing why he does not agree to the total or partial payment of the fee. In most cases the owner pays the unpaid fees without opposing and the procedure stops here.
If the defendant does not make any opposition but does not pay within the 20 days, the judge can order an embargo to be put on the property or decide to auction some or all of the defendant’s property in order to cover the fees and the additional legal expenses. The solvency of the owner is guaranteed by the property he owns.
If the defendant opposes the judicial order, the judge has to close the previous process and start a new process called Juicio Declarativo. In this process the community of owners will have to provide evidence of the amounts owed by the debtor. In some cases the judge might put a pre-emptive embargo on the property or request the owner to pay the amount as a consignment until the court reaches a final verdict.
It is always best to ask your Spanish lawyer if you have any doubts about the internal workings of your Community of Owners or Resident’s Association.