Living on a Community of Owners: What you need to know
Around Algorfa, many of the available properties are located on urbanisations, or in apartment blocks. In practice, this means your home is on a Community of Owners, which is governed by the Horizontal Law, or in Spanish, Ley de Propriedad Horizontal. This recent article gives a good explanation of the requirements of the law, but if you are considering buying on a Community of Owners, it’s a good idea to read a translation of the law yourself and discuss any queries you may have with your legal advisor before going ahead with your purchase.
I live on the large La Finca Urbanisation, which has well over 1,000 properties and is divided into around 25 separate communities. R1, where I live, consists of 57 properties, but communities can comprise anything from 10 properties to 200 or more. Put simply, a Community of Owners is any development where individual property units can be sold but there are shared amenities such as communal gardens and one or more swimming pools which are open to residents and visitors.
If you buy a town house in Algorfa, it’s not part of a community, but an apartment in the Fontana or Cecilia blocks definitely is, and you will incur extra obligations as well as benefits as a result of buying on a community. Let’s look at the things that really matter, so you can discover if community living is for you or something you’d rather not consider, thanks very much.
Shared and extra costs
Community living involves sharing communal costs with other owners, and you can’t get out of it. The costs of running the swimming pool, keeping the communal paths and gardens clean and tidy and lighting the development are shared between all owners, who are also responsible for repairs and maintenance on the community, as well as maintaining their own property to standards set by the other owners. As a community of owners, with many different people coming and going besides residents, there’s also a need for public liability insurance.
You’ll be paying a share of the pool upkeep whether you use it or not. On the other hand, it’s much cheaper than servicing a private pool, and our community includes basic private gardening costs in our annual community payment (quota). That means although I pay around €80 a year for gardening, I don’t have to employ a private gardener, and I don’t have to worry what’s happening if I am detained on a UK visit, like in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic and my husband’s passing meant I was away from my home for 11 months.
Your share of the common expenses is determined by the size of your property, so it’s worth considering that when looking to buy on a community. I’m happy to pay a little over €500 in annual community quota, but I’d struggle to find €1,000 or more as a villa owner. And don’t go ahead and purchase with the idea of persuading others to campaign with you to reduce your quota once you’re an owner. Under the Horizontal Law, it needs a unanimous vote to change the way quotas are paid, and unless all the properties are the same size, and therefore occupying similar percentages of the communal areas, that’s never going to happen. An apartment owner isn’t going to vote to increase his own quota so his neighbour in the villas pays less, so you’ll never get a unanimous vote.
When buying on a community, check that there is no debt attached to the property, because unpaid community quota is transferable for the current year and up to three years previously. It’s also a good idea to look at the community’s accounts to see how many quotas remain unpaid, and if it’s consistent, because this throws up red flags. It shows the management board are not effectively chasing up late payers, and that can impact on services and repairs. The money has to come from somewhere, and if all owners are not paying their share, you could be asked to pay extra as a special payment to cover emergency repairs.
On my community, we are fortunate not to have a bad debt problem, but that’s not always the case, so ensure your legal advisor is on top of this. Be wary if the management board are cagey about sharing this information, and if you feel the quotas seem high for the level of services provided, ask questions. Bear in mind that high or low quotas may not be a reflection on how the community is run; it could be just a matter of numbers. It’s reasonable to expect quotas on a community of 200 or more homes to be lower than smaller developments, as there are more owners to contribute to costs.
An Englishman’s, or any other nationality’s home is not necessarily his castle!
If you’ve never lived in a country where the concept of horizontal property ownership exists, you might find it strange to discover how community life works. For example, there are probably rules governing certain aspects of your property that you may have not come across before. It’s common to have restrictions on colours for awnings, pergolas fences and gates to keep the overall appearance of the community uniform, and there will be recommended colours for exterior painting, so you can’t just decide to go for a tasteful green to be different when similar properties on your community are terracotta coloured. Your community will also have a reasonable timescale for repainting, so if the requirement is to repaint every 10 years and you ignore reminders, you can expect to be the subject of legal action.
The fact that it can take years for things to go through court is no reason to ignore directives from the community in the hope it will go away and you will be left in peace. Eventually, you will have to comply, and if you are unreasonable, the law allows for community representatives to contract out the work and charge you for it. If you raise the height of a communal wall without permission because you want more privacy, eventually you will have to take it down, or the management board will get it done and send you the bill, which will become a debt on your property if you don’t pay it. Not only that, if you eventually sell the property, it will mean more work for your legal adviser, which will cost even more money.
Well hello, Mr President!
By law, each Community of Owners must elect a President, who then becomes the only true legal representative of the community. If there isn’t a willing volunteer, the owners must choose a President, either by rotation or drawing names from a hat. And you can’t refuse if it’s your turn, unless you are physically and/or mentally incapable of doing the job. If you are over 18 and own a property on a Community of Owners, theoretically you are Presidential Material!
In practice, the President is supported by the Administrator, who must be legally qualified to do the job and is appointed by the owners at each Annual General Meeting. There is also often a Vice President and a small committee of owners, although this is not a legal requirement. The President is not all-powerful; he may be the only legal representative, but he is also answerable to the law himself and is required to act in the best interests of the community at all times.
It can be something of a thankless task, since you can’t please everyone, all the time. Before you put yourself forward as a candidate for President, find out more about how your community runs, and be prepared to get some grief from those who don’t agree with the rules and think you can change them just because they ask!
Living on a Community of Owners suits me. I am a 70 year old widow sharing a house with a friend who is also a widow and knocking on the door of 80. Living out in the campo, miles from anywhere is not something we’d be comfortable with. We are lucky to have lovely, supportive neighbours who we know we can call on if necessary, and our community is well run and well maintained, both by the management board and the other owners. It’s gated, so there’s an extra layer of security, and I love the convenience of having a pool I can use every day if I want to without the hassle of employing a pool cleaner and buying the necessary chemical filters. I love my life on La Finca, and I have no intention of moving, because right now there is nowhere I would rather be.
However, if you don’t take kindly to being told what you can and can’t do around your own property, and you object to paying more than the necessary costs on your own home, maybe you would be happier with a townhouse in Algorfa, or somewhere spacious out in the campo. Only you can decide what’s best for your expectations of life Around Algorfa, but ensure you are clued up on the pros and cons of community living before you make your decision for or against. The most important thing is that you are happy in your new life.
For more information on living on a Community of Owners, consult your regular legal adviser or one of our advertisers in this section, all of whom have exceptional local knowledge and can advise you whether your interests are best served on a community or in an independent property. Click on their banners to go directly to their websites.