More cases have now been heard, and the same verdict is being given for them all: these are, of course, just those where the evidence for the fine was based on internet inspection alone. The verdict is being given even where the ostensible reason for the fine is the lack of a complaints book and notice. I say “same verdict” rather than “same judgment” because the tone of the judgments has changed. They are now considerably stronger in our favour, and more critical of both the government, and the tourism law itself.
All the judgments so far have come from courts 2 and 4. We have cases in courts 1 and 3 also, and expect the first judgments from them before the end of this year, probably next month. Court 3, as I’ve said before, is the most pro-government of the four, and the only one of them all to insist that the fine money was lodged with the government itself, rather than the Courts. This means that when we get verdicts from court 3, it may take considerably longer to get the money back. Refunds from courts 1, 2 and 4 should be very rapid, and the first formal applications for refunds will be made next week. As I’ve also said before, we are confident of the verdicts now, and should by any chance a different ruling be given, this can be appealed as a “contradictory verdict”.
As I’ve said before as well, because the fines were less than €30,000, the courts had the power to prevent any further appeals, and they have done this. Because Turismo rejected the courts’ suggestion of a class action, however, we still have many more cases to steer individually through all four courts, and even with several a day being heard, it will be May 2014 before we expect to get judgments on them all. This should give a fair idea of quite how many fines were issued – illegally, as we now have it from both courts and Presidencia-Consejo Consultivo.
I had a meeting this morning with José Escobedo and Santiago Saenz in view of the above, and we agreed that since we now have multiple “sentencias firme” (final judgments), it is a good time to look to the future. Alotca was never formed simply to defend fines, but to be a lobbying association on behalf of owners affected by the legislation. Although I am president of Alotca for this year, it is an association with five founder members, and so I hope the following will be taken as reflections of this morning’s meeting and thinking aloud in writing, rather than as firm statements to which I, or we, will be held if future events are slightly different.
We think that the judges’ comments in the more recent appeal rulings are very strong, and that there is now a clear case, and perhaps even a mandate, to clarify, amend and redraft tourism legislation, at least as concerns private owners. One area we will be concerned with is tightening up and specifying the means and methods by which inspections may be made, not least because Turismo is now determined to go all out to carry out inspections that will be legally valid, and particularly to revisit those where first fines were imposed and rejected by the courts – they know that when they impose a further fine, it will be at the higher level of around €30,000 for a second offence. We also envisage seeking the legal right for private owners – of touristic properties and independent villas – to draw up private touristic contracts on their own behalf. We are not contemplating the abolition of the sole agent system, but rather allowing private owners to operate independently alongside them if they so wish.
This is the briefest of outlines of the way we’re thinking and we have commissioned an Alotca website, which we see as a bilingual and interactive resource to flesh this programme out much more fully. We see the website, though, as not just a static hub for information and updates, but also for members themselves to register and participate in the process we will be undertaking and heading. We are prepared to take this fight on, and take it to the government, and envisage carrying out this work ourselves: if necessary, we will redraft the whole law, something that is constitutionally permissible, and well within the capabilities of the two lawyers, with support from Maria, Paul and myself. This work, however, and the fight in general – and it will be a fight – will cost time and expense.
We don’t want to undertake it if people don’t have the stomach for it. I don’t think a single one of the five of us has personal interests in the matter, but if there is a widespread need, we will take it forward. Having said that, although we do not see Alotca as a personal profit-making enterprise, we think that it is not unfair that the time and expense that will inevitably be involved should be covered, and were considering something in the region of €50 a year. So, we would be grateful if readers could let us know whether they would like, and support, these proposals.
Even as I was typing the above, I received an email (now one of many) from someone who had been facing a nightmare and who can now “sleep well tonight”. We have achieved a solid and resounding victory for many ordinary people who had trustingly invested in these islands, but we want to do more, and try to ensure that they will now be able to enjoy their properties, in the majority of cases, as they originally envisaged. Please let us know whether you’re with us in this fight either by replying to this post or by email to me at email@example.com.