Maria Luisa de Castro was recently interviewed on Talk Radio Europe by Bill Padley. They discussed the recent changes in law and the effect the Pandemic has been having on the Spanish legal system.
Bill: We talk now to our first show sponsor, CostaLuz Lawyers. Maria Luisa de Castro. Good morning Maria! Nice to talk to you.
Maria: Very nice to talk to you, Bill. How are you doing?
Bill: Not bad in these very strange times, Maria. Not bad. Still smiling anyway, which is something I guess.
Maria: Yeah, it’s strange. We don’t know how long that it was going to take.
Bill: We don’t. And some of the things we’re talking about today are things that have been affected by the COVID crisis. And with Spain, the court system in Spain, the legal system in Spain has never been, let’s say, renowned as being the fastest in the world. And COVID has sent them into meltdown basically, haven’t they? They’re gasping for breath, bogged down by delays and lagging in technology.
Maria: Yes. I mean, it’s true. I mean, there are delays that we have had in regards to getting our courts into the telematics system. It was already there before the pandemic. But when this has happened, it has been very evident that we really need to speed up to get into there. As a matter of fact, this has worked as a factor for that to happen quicker. But also, it’s a way to know the failures and the big board that we need to implement. Still, there are many courts that are implementing telematics systems even having telematics hearing. So I guess that will be spread in the country the sooner they can.
Bill: So these are hearings, which are done not in person, but by, for example, video call. Is that what you’re referring to?
Maria: Exactly. There are many courts, independently and individually by their own decision, are using this means.
Bill: What was the problem before COVID? Why is the Spanish legal system so slow?
Maria: Our procedures are slow by nature because they are very declaratory, especially with the civil law and civil procedure. They are long by nature because of the nature of the system. Case law is based in codes. So you need an argument for your case, and the case law is not that a precedent as it is in your system. And that makes them longer.
Bill: And is it true to say as well that Spain has just over half of the European average of judges per 100,000 residents? So they basically don’t have the people in the courts?
Maria: Yes, that’s also true. During the last 10 years, to the financial crisis, that increased a lot. There have been a lot of new proceedings coming into court, especially against banks despite the government creating specialized courts for bank-related matters like for forecloses. They are still stuck. They cannot cope with the work that they’ve got. So now, I think the solution is clear. It is the telematics, modernization of justice. It needs to be done. There is no more time to wait. It has been talked for years, but nothing has really been done. So now because of the situation that we are in, I guess the mindset of the government and the judicial government is changing quickly because there is no other option.
Bill: It’s an interesting system. And I guess if you’ve done something wrong, and your court cases are taking years, then that’s probably a good thing, but not if you’re trying to, for example, recover money from somebody like a bank, as you’ve just said.
Maria: Well, you have the advantage that these claims come with interest and the more time it passes, interests are accruing against the bank. So in the end financially, it’s not that bad. It is kind of an investment because the average of interest is 4% or 5%. But for me, that’s not a consolation, that’s not a solution because people want their money quicker. They need it. Some people are getting very old. They started these claims like 15 years ago when they were 60 or 65. And now they are 15 years older. Their lives are completely different now. They have different perspectives and different needs and have very real needs at that age but still waiting for this bank actions to be solved. It’s very sad. Of course, that doesn’t have a heart. It is us, lawyers who need to be passionate in making claims to the General Council of judicial power for the good working of courts, which are not always effective measures but it’s all that we can do in that aspect.
Bill: Okay. Well, we’ll watch this space as they say in England and see what happens. Still with the coronavirus, now we know that we’re coming to the end of the Brexit withdrawal agreement period on December 31. And those who were sensible got their paperwork; those expats who are sensible got their paperwork in order way before the time now. But now, of course, people didn’t expect the COVID crisis to pop up and they’ve now got themselves in a position where there’s really not much time left, and this is causing problems for some people, isn’t it?
Maria: That’s completely true. It is causing problems for two main reasons. One is because some people have had to postpone their plans to relocate to Spain because of the coronavirus situation. And also the offices themselves have been closed for some months. Started running again but not in the fast way that they should be and are still kind of stuck. They are not running too well. So these two factors are making an impact on the real possibilities of people coming here and getting registered as a resident before December 31. I haven’t seen, haven’t read of a measure that is being implemented taking into account that there has been a force majeure situation and we should have had a correspondence in the regulation for helping people, who, not because of their own will, but because of the situation not being able to achieve what they were planning. I honestly have not seen any dealing regarding that between the UK and the Spain government.
Bill: I guess the UK government has caught bigger fish to fry at the moment. But in terms of what would happen here, it would have to be Spain surely who made the first move and said okay, we’ll give you another six months or whatever it might be, but it would have to come from Spain, surely.
Maria: Yes. I agree. That’s true because we are the country which are receiving people and getting them resident in our country. So you are very right that it should have been Spain who will have to extend the period for making this possible.
Bill: What’s quite interesting, and I was reading this only yesterday, is that some offices, for example, there’s one in Costa Blanca saying there are no more appointments before the end of the year. Forget it. You can’t come and see us. And that was only though for people who were making their first residency appointment, but they had plenty of appointments with people who were converting the residency to a TIE.
Maria: It’s true. I was talking to a good friend who is an immigrant specialist the other day, and he told me how the offices because of the coronavirus situation just open a number of appointments every day, and they close it, and there is no more. So they are working like a quarter of what they used to work before in terms of immigration appointments. The good thing is that the government allowed lawyers like very qualified lawyers in immigration law to be able to register, to do this registration without the appointment. So if people appoint one of these lawyers, they can overcome this obstacle of the lack of appointment. Also, they need to be present there at the foreign office for presenting their registration documents. All can be done telematically through a legal representative.
Bill: Oh, that’s interesting. And I guess that’s something that your company could offer as a service.
Maria: Yes, yes. We are doing a joint venture with this immigrant law specialist. And we’re offering the service to people yes.
Bill: Well, that’s good news to hear. So if anyone’s sitting, listening right now and they’re really struggling to get an appointment, then get on with it and ring up CostaLuz Lawyers and get it sorted because leaving it till the end of the year hoping it’ll go away, it’s not going to happen.
Maria: Yes, and we can help people nationwide.
Bill: Yes, of course.
Maria: Anywhere they are we have access to their foreign offices.
Bill: Fantastic. Very good news and good advice. Thank you. And sadly in the aftermath of the property bubble, and now the COVID crisis, again, these terrible words, negative equity is becoming common among property owners in Spain. And for those who are not familiar with the term, I think most people probably are, but that’s when basically your house is worth less than you owe. And that’s a terrible situation.
Maria: That’s it. And in some cases, I mean, they’re worse. The worst-case scenario is when people completed, and there was no First Occupation License so they can have the negative equity and the property not being able to be sold to anyone because there is no license. It is not legal despite it being registered in the land registry. The legal traffic is closed for it because there was a law in 2013, which made that impossible. So the solution here is to get the banks trapped in their own trump. Yes, it is something that I like a lot. Like yesterday, I was talking to a bank manager, and he was very shocked by the fact that a property without a license of one of our clients was granted a big mortgage in 2006, I think or 2007. And I said, well, that’s what you did, and now it’s your own problem. Because what happens here is despite the market value of the property, say for instance a property that could be valued now in the market for €60,000, it was bought for instance in 2006 and was bought for €120,000. But then it was valued for off-set, proposes for around €180,000 or even €200,000. Therefore, if the death of the owner, of the debtor, is lower than half of that big, big, big amount that bank placed for those properties for off-set value, they can just get rid of the property and delete the whole debt. And well, I understand people sometimes are attached to their properties because they have been possibly living there for some years. But in many occasions, there is no other possible buyer, courting buyer by the fact that if you have a mortgage on your property, which is higher than the market value, no one is going to buy it. There is no way to find a buyer because the charge is higher than the actual market value of the property, and that is very, very common. And people are paying huge mortgages on properties that values very little now in the market. That is a big problem. It’s a big problem, but it has a big solution too.
Bill: So you could potentially be trying to sell a property to somebody, and they would be unable to buy it because the bank has a charge over that property, which wouldn’t be paid back by the sale. Therefore, they still have a charge on the property for the new owner.
Maria: Exactly. And the bank will not lend that big amount that the property has on it, but the market value. So there is no way for those properties to be sold. The only real value by buyer of those properties overcharged, overvalued in those crazy years of the financial boom and the real estate boom is to give it back to the bank. So this low, which make it obligatory for them to repossess them at a minimum value and that minimum value in the most of the cases cover your debt. So it is a very practical way. I know it’s sad, but then you can go and find a very similar property having a mortgage for possibly half of what you are paying now.
Bill: Yes, absolutely. It’s no surprise that they call themselves mortgage prisoners.
Maria: Mortgage prisoners. Exactly.
Bill: Yeah. Well, there is a way out as you’ve said, and all people have to do is get in touch with CostaLuz Lawyers, and you can be helped pretty quickly by you and your colleagues there. How do people get hold of you, Maria? Tell us how they find you.
Maria: Well, the best way is to use our email address. We answer email always within the same day or 48 hours the longest, and it is firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill: Okay, email@example.com. Fantastic.
Maria: And our phone number is 956-029-627. Those two main channels.
Bill: Fantastic. If you just Google CostaLuz Lawyers on the internet, you’ll find your excellent website.
Bill: And there’s a lot of useful information on the website as well. It’s not just a kind of a website there to tell people what you do. But there are lots of blog posts, which are very, very interesting.
Maria: Yes. And we try to make people informed. We have been doing that for 15 years now. And we really enjoy it. We want people to be comfortable in our country and safe. That’s our mission as a company.
Bill: Good for you. It was a pleasure to talk to you as always. Now, I know that the Spanish legal system is crying out for more judges. I’m going to go and study Spanish law now and see if I can become a judge because they clearly need them. It might take me a few years. What do you think?
Maria: How would you be? As a judge?
Bill: Yeah, it will take me a few years.
Maria: I think you would be effective and quick. I’m sure.
Bill: I’m glad to hear it, but the studying might take me just about 10 years. I might be about to pop off the earth just before I qualify. Thank you very much, Maria. It’s lovely to talk to you.
Maria: Thank you.
Bill: You take care.