Thursday, June 30, 2011

I attended a meeting of my Community tonight.

I wasn't sure what time to arrive as the notice had said there were to be two convocatorias, the first at 7pm and the second at 7.30. None of the Spanish friends I asked could explain what this meant but they all added that notices of community meetings always took this form.

I had planned to go for 7 but in the end – after a long lunch and a late siesta – I got there for a little after 7.35. To find things well under way.

The meeting took place around two plastic tables on the terrace of the little house down near the pool and, apart from the two(sic) women from the offices of the administrator, there were nine owners there. Which is about 25% (ie a quarter) of the total of thirty seven. I was interested to note that, in the master list of owners, twenty-nine of them only had a male name as the proprietor. One of whom – divorced – has long since gone, having given the house to his (unnamed) wife.

The backcloth to the meeting was a magnificent sunset over Pontevedra below us and the noisy to-ing and fro-ing of a yellow plane dumping water on a fire in the hills behind the city. But since everyone shouts, this didn't interfere with the proceedings in any way.

After a few minutes of desultory chat – dominated by the demonstrative ex president – the meeting was called to order and the Minutes of the last meeting were read out, followed by a brief report from the current president, my neighbour, Manolo. I intervened briefly during the first of these to ask that they be read out at less than a hundred miles an hour. As ever, this resulted in a reduction to around 95.

The meat of the meeting was quickly established as the question of whether we all contribute to the cost of repairing/replacing malfunctioning drains in some of the houses. The ex president was again the most vocal in rejecting this idea. Which struck me as ironic as we'd all contributed handsomely to expensive improvements in the facilities near his house when he'd been president.

It wasn't much of a problem to follow the proceedings when only one person was speaking – or even two - but when things broke up into numerous simultaneous side discussions – particularly when seven of the nine owners were speaking at the same time – things became rather more difficult. Needless to say, this happened on numerous occasions. My main difficulty was with the unfamiliar word arqueta. So, I asked Manolo what this was and was told it was where all the waste water and sewage ended up. But how this differed from a pozo negro or a fosa septica I couldn't determine.

As I say, the ex president dominated the rather fractious proceedings. Clearly a man who likes the sound of his own voice. Coincidentally, I know his son from the English Speaking Society in Pontevedra and he's certainly a chip off the old block. And both are fond of the word coño.

At 8.30, a tenth owner arrived and immediately entered the discussion/argument, despite knowing nothing of what had happened in the previous hour.

At 8.40 we moved from the discussions of the drains to a review of the accounts for 2010. One owner probably spoke for all when he expressed astonishment that everyone was up to date with their monthly payments and that there was a (small) balance in the end-year accounts. I imagine there always is. But perhaps there's sometimes a loss.

At 8.50, an eleventh owner arrived and, a minute later, the guy who'd arrived at 8.40 departed. Leaving himself exposed to election as the next president. Which then happened.

At 8.55 the meeting broke up, leaving me without the slightest idea of what had been decided. But I'll check with Manolo tomorrow. The last meeting I attended – more than ten years ago in November 2000 – went on for three hours and ended with the sole decision that all decisions would be postponed until a second meeting in two weeks time. Which never took place.

I live in fear that one day they'll round on me and tell me it's my turn to be president. Especially if I don't forfeit hours and hours of my life by attending all the future meetings. Que pena.

Postscript: I bumped into my neighbours Amparo and Manolo after the meeting. I asked them what had been decided and they just smiled wryly. Nothing it seems. I told Manolo of the first (and last) meeting I'd attended but he easily topped this. At the first meeting he'd attended there'd almost been a fist fight and the question had arisen of law suits. Anyway, he congratulated me on avoiding the presidency for another year. I replied that I couldn't be president as I didn't speak Spanish.


Mike the Traditionalist said...

Well Colin welcome to the club. At the end of July this year I will have been living here in A Coruña for seven years. In that time I have been vice-president three times. The last session was for two years running. There are eleven apartments in this building. The owners of two apartments only arrive in the summer. Three others rent their apartments out so never attend any meetings. So that only leaves six of us to do all the donkey work. One Englishman to five Galegos. All the meetings are held in the same fashion. Five people shouting in Galego at each other at the same time. Do I know what is always happening? No! But I sure know how busy I have been in the years looking after the accounts and getting repairs and complaints sorted out. I have to attend to my ill wife 24/7 and yet they always come to my door when things go wrong and expect me to drop everything and sort out the problem. As I am a handyman I can sort out a lot of the problems like broken locks or some electrical troubles which saves the community big bucks but they are not grateful and take everything for granted. Some meetings end up with one or two women crying and running out of the meeting room. Because of the problems we have with the crook builder we have several meetings each year. I guess I could call myself a "coño" for letting myself get roped into things but as the building is also my home I want it to be in good order. Anyone who is reading this and is contemplating buying an apartment (piso) here in Spain DON'T even think about it. Buy a house where there is no "comunidad de vecinos" instead. Even that is not straight forward so be warned.

Colin said...

Thanks, for sharing this, Mike. And for your earlier comment, which made me LoL. You seem to have been hard done by in your block of flats! I can just imagine your meetings! At least in mine everyone speaks Spanish, albeit all at the same time. You've made a cross for your own back by being a manitas. Maybe you should now claim some sort of brain injury!

Alberto MdH said...

The convocatorias are a law-mandated issue. The first call means that the meeting will begin at that time if everybody is present . If this is not true, the beginning of the meeting will be postponed until the second, where is sufficient to present the legal minimum. It is important to follow this procedure, because otherwise, a judge could void all the agreements reached and, bearing in mind that these meetings are often quite contentious, it is better to be careful. This procedure is common to many types of meetings with legal validity (meetings of shareholders, for example) I think it is also mandatory to have meetings from time to time, but I'm not sure of the details. In practice, given that it is normal that most residents do not attend the meeting ever, this means that the second call is the one that marks the beginning of the meeting.

And I agree with Manolo and Amparo to congratulate you on getting rid of the presidency is a heavy and ungrateful duty. The trouble is that we all strive so much to avoid it that it normally ends with assholes who love to hear their voice and prominence.

Colin said...

Many thanks, Alberto, for this explanation. All is clear now. I suppose the rule recognises the reality that the majority of attendees will always arrive after the official time of the meeting . . .

Alberto MdH said...

in fact, it recognises the reality that the majority of the called will never attend.

Colin said...


I've given up trying to comment on your blogs, the system just doesn't like me!

The terms and timing of the Community Meetings are set out in the "Law of Horizontal Property", which mainly deals with apartments but there is a provision for estates with houses. The reason for the 2 meetings, set half an hour apart, is that for the first meeting, a quorum of a 25% of members (based on their "cuotas" or share of the estate) must be present. There is no "cuota" requirement for the 2nd meeting, so it can go ahead if the president and one other turn up. It has become common practice to set the meetings half an hour apart, the could be hours, days or weeks apart This is stated in Article 16 of the law.

David Searl writes a fantastic book (updated every year, so mine may be a bit out of date) "You and the law in Spain" where he translates the whole law, article by article and gives an explanation of what they all mean. It's an unusually simple law as laws go, so if you're interested, google "la ley de propiedad horizontal", the details are: Law 49/1960, amended by Law 8/1999, published April 8th 1999. There are lots of peculiar aspects, for instance, the President is not allowed to resign, he has to be voted out by a majority of "cuota" and if nobody else wants the job, he's stuck with it whether he wants to or not.

Hope this was of interest


PS If you read through the law of horizontal property, I can imagine you having a lot of fun at the next meeting!

Mike the Traditionalist said...

Thanks to Alberto MdH and David for that information. I have a copy of the ley in Spanish but it is really heavy reading for me. I soon learned why no one wants to take on the position of president or vice-president. I put up a notice for a meeting and only three showed up. Myself (vice-president), the presidenta and a chap from the top floor who only wanted to give us the good news that he was selling up. He succeeded by the way. I had to organize another meeting and after a lot of bullying we got a new president and vice-president. I could write a book on the things that have happened in this building and the all the problems that we had and still have with the crook builder. His last trick was to put the vado (permit to keep garage clear of parked cars) in the name of the community. His son gave my name and forged my signature so they could have the vado. They paid the town hall in cash when the licence was renewed but luckily someone in the town hall made a mistake and sent a reminder to the community. I opened the letter and saw what they wanted. We don't own the garage but it is in our building. I took the vado down so we could take it to the town hall and explain the situation. That is when the guy in the town hall got out the records and we discovered what the builder was up to. A neighbour saw me take the vado down and called the builder who arrived with his mental son and wife. The son tried to kick in the front door to gain access and threatened to cut my throat. The police arrived and accused me of robbery and wanted the vado but I pretended to be a bit stupid and said I didn't have the vado. I hid the vado earlier and knew the police wanted to confiscate it. We "denounced" the builder but I doubt if anything will ever come of it. It is six months now and the builder has not got a new vado on the garage. He has permission for four cars but he has it rented out to motorbikes so he can cram more in.

Colin said...

Astonishing. Well, not really. I wonder why the owners of the carpark (presumably not the builder) couldn't/wouldn't get the vado.

Mike the Traditionalist said...

Colin - the builder does own the garage. At first he offered all the residents an option to buy. It is just a space marked out with white lines on the floor. In 2003 he wanted 18,000 euros for a parking space. Naturally no one bought one and there were only 5 places on offer which the town hall later reduced to 4. He got the vado in the community name while he still had a couple of apartments for sale. He gained cheaper rates for something or other which I never did find out about. The builder and his wife formed the first community of property owners and the wife became president. Only one of the four residents attended the unannounced meeting and formed the community. We later found out she had shares in one of his other crooked businesses. After a bit of investigating I found out that he trades under Inversiones Riazor and his wife has her own estate agency. Didn't find out any of this till we started having trouble with building problems and getting Fenosa to connect up our heating system. There was so much trouble on the day 5 of us residents went to sign the papers for the apartment sale that we were almost thrown out of the building. To get the heating set right we ended up getting a lawyer. Wow another great adventure in which I still have taped telephone recordings of the builder threatening me to sign or else. I doubt if many people reading this would believe what can go wrong when you buy property here in Spain and what risks you take whether you are a foreigner or a Spaniard. Everyone has to go through the same hoops.

Mike the Traditionalist said...

post script . I forgot to mention that I am the only non Spaniard in the building and all the others are Spanish. So what I went through is not because I am a foreigner. A lot of Spanish people can tell you horrific stories of small builders and what they get up to. Seems best to buy from a well known large firm as there will be a little less trouble. Fingers crossed!