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RIGHTS

Noisy neighbours: What are my rights in Spain?

Noise is part of daily life in Spain, but what can you do if you are constantly being bothered or woken up by a neighbour’s banging or a dog barking while you’re at home? Here is a round-up of the laws protect you and the steps to take action.

Noisy neighbours: What are my rights in Spain?
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

While it’s true that you can find yourself living in a noisy environment in any country, Spain pretty much tops the decibel tables. 

The Iberian nation is only beaten by Japan as the most ear-splitting country on the planet, according to the World Health Organisation.

Around nine million people in Spain are exposed to noise levels above 65 decibels, the recommended threshold by the WHO.

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And although traffic is reportedly responsible for 80 percent of noise pollution in Spain, there is plenty of clatter keeping people awake (or out of their minds) at home.

Sixteen percent of Spanish households put up with noise produced by neighbours or from outside, according to Spain’s National Statistics Institute (2016).

So what can you do if a noisy neighbour or the rowdy bar next door are disturbing your peaceful time at home? Turns out you may have more rights than you thought.

What does Spanish law say?

Exceeding legal noise levels and disturbing the peace of people’s home is considered a violation of the right to personal and family privacy in the Spanish Constitution.

Spain’s national Noise Law was first created in 2003 but other specific regional and municipal regulations also apply in many towns and cities.

According to Noisess, a Spanish company specialising in carrying out noise pollution assessments, the legislation isn’t too clear when it comes to noise disturbances at home.

‘Domestic noise’ as they call it(from neighbours, pets, use of electrical appliances) and noise from construction sites, mopeds, garbage collection, festivals in the street are out of the reach of state law.

So as with so many other official matters in Spain, the responsibility falls to regional or municipal authorities to decide in most cases.

For example, in Bilbao, Valencia and Zaragoza, it is forbidden to carry out any construction or refurbishing work at home from 10 pm to 8 am on weekdays (9.30 am on Saturdays and holidays) while in Barcelona and Madrid the ban begins earlier at 9 pm.

According to Spanish consumer rights watchdog OCU, these are the decibel limits during the day and at night in different parts of Spain, for bedrooms in the first two columns and other rooms in the second two columns. 

This reliance on local legislation also applies to noise from a bar in your neighbourhood that’s keeping you up at night, although again different cities and regions will set their own time and decibel limits for nightlife establishments.

What are the steps to follow if you have a noisy neighbour?

1. Talk to your neighbour

Before you get involved in any official complaints or calls to police, start by trying to talk to the neighbour making noise in person. They may not even realize how loud they’re being so sometimes just by bringing the matter up, the problem can be solved more quickly, easily and amicably.

2. Get a copy of your local noise bylaw

If they don’t respond favourably to your conversation, the next step is to get a copy of your local noise laws.
Most municipal bylaws have a clause banning excessive and unreasonable noise; whether it be continuously barking dogs, very loud televisions and music, or excessive banging.

You can look online for these “ordenanzas de ruido” or go in person to your town hall or public library to access them. Make a copy to give to your neighbour as a casual reminder and warning that they are breaking the law.

Start making a note of all irritating episodes of loud for future reference.

If you belong to a community of owners then you can also bring the noise issue with them for advice on how to handle it.

3. Warn your neighbour in writing

If neither of these steps works, it’s probably time to warn your noisy neighbour in writing.

Although this should never come across as threatening, kindly inform your neighbour/s that if the noise problems don’t stop, you will take the matter to authorities. Include a copy of the previous noise bylaw with your letter and keep a copy of it for yourself in case you are forced to sue your neighbour in court.

As most people live in apartments in Spain, noise problems are very common. Photo: Pablo del Haro/Pexels

4. Call the police

Inevitably if all of the above doesn’t work and the noise has become a constant and increasingly bothersome problem, you’re probably left with no choice but to call the police.

You can call the police in connection with a noisy neighbour from the first time the noise becomes loud, regardless of the situation. However, the officers will be more sympathetic to you if they see that you have repeatedly tried to solve the problem on your own.

Some local police offers will use sonometers to measure the decibel levels, which in residential areas have limits of 40 to 30 decibels in normal rooms and 35 to 25 in bedrooms.

Making a “denuncia” (filing a complaint) may also involve a trip to your nearest Guardia Civil police station. You will have to provide proof of ID and have a translator with you if you’re not fluent in Spanish.

5. File an official complaint for noise 

If even a police warning hasn’t resulted in any change, the final step is to take the matter to court. To be able to claim for damages, you will need to prove the existence of excessive and disturbing noise, a decrease in your wellbeing at home due to the noise as well as evidence that you’ve repeatedly addressed the matter with your neighbour.

Any police report, recordings or witness testimonies can help with your case.

A community of neighbourhours can also file an official complaint if they’re all affected by a neighbour’s noise, according to Spain’s Commonhold Property Act (Ley de la Propiedad Horizontal).

If the judge rules in favour of the plaintiff/s, the noisy neighbourhood may have to pay compensation, be forced to leave the property for up to three years if they own it or have their contract terminated if they are tenants.

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

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Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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