In my last post about the delay in publishing the “Jalisco Condo Manual – Second Edition,” I mentioned that a higher court in Jalisco had found that Article 1032 of the Jalisco Civil Code was unconstitutional. I’ve received a surprising number of enquiries for details about this, and thought it easiest to deal with it in another blog post.
Article 1032 is the civil code article that allows a condo to petition a judge to sell a unit at public auction if the owner repeatedly fails to pay fees, or violates other obligations.
How we found this out…
A condo decided to sue a particularly intransigent delinquent owner, and to rely on Article 1032 to rid the condo of the problem owner. This type of lawsuit is usually faster than a typical suit for recovery of a debt. However, there were unusually lengthy delays in getting the documents reviewed and approved by the judge.
Working through a Guadalajara lawyer, we discovered that the local court had never had a suit like this before. In the past, local area condos had always just sued for the money owed. The judge, being unfamiliar with this article and its procedures, wanted more information before proceeding with the suit and the auction.
The lawyer did some searching in court records in Guadalajara to find an example case the judge could review.
He uncovered a case where a condo had successfully sued under Article 1032. The owner of the unit (a lawyer) had launched two appeals, which were denied. The auction was ordered to proceed, and a buyer was found. The owner launched one more appeal, and was, unfortunately, successful!
The argument he used in this final appeal was that, the way Article 1032 is written, it precludes the owner from presenting a defence.
The constitutional problem…
Article 1032 just requires the condo to petition a judge with sufficient documentation, and if it has proven that it is a properly constituted condo, the identity of the titleholder, and that a repeated violation has occurred, the judge will then order the property to be sold at public auction. There is no provision in this article for any submission from the owner.
Article 14 of the Mexican Constitution establishes the key legal principle of Seguridad Juridica (Legal Certainty). When the state seeks to use privation against someone (the act of taking away property or rights), this can only be done by means of a trial held in front of the courts. There can only be a judgement imposed against the defendant if they are allowed to contradict that which they are accused of, or that which is demanded from them, and that they be allowed to defend their interests.
All laws passed in México must comply with this basic principle, and because Article 1032 doesn’t allow for this (because it has a defect in its wording), the higher court deemed it unconstitutional.
History of the case…
The case in question occurred in the Ninth Civil Court in Guadalajara. The lawsuit was admitted, and, following Article 1032 of the Civil Code and the corresponding civil procedures, the Judge gave the defendant a 5-day term to name his property appraiser. The defendant did not accomplish this. The defendant challenged the decision of the court, and the judge denied it, based on the way Article 1032 was worded.
The defendant then filed an amparo lawsuit (a type of injunction on constitutional grounds) saying that Article 1032 violates his human rights. The judge for the amparo suit did not grant a hearing because he felt that the procedural stage of the lawsuit did not permit such an appeal.
The Judge, following the rules in Article 1032 and the associated civil procedures, received appraisals from the condo and from a court-appointed appraiser, and established the value of the property. The Judge then ordered that the property be put up for auction following the auction procedures set out in the Code of Civil Procedures.
A person was interested in buying the property, and presented an offer of purchase to the Judge. After publishing the required proclamations, they won the auction sale, and the property was ordered to be transferred to them as the new owner.
Later, the defendant filed another amparo to revise entirely Article 1032 to comply with the constitutional principle that obliges the laws of all States of the Republic to not violate the Constitution. The judgement of the Fifth District Court in Civil Matters found that this article does violate the principle of a hearing, since the article does not allow the defendant to be heard in a trial before receiving a judgement. This higher court ordered the judge in Guadalajara to abandon without effects all judicial acts in that judgement.
You can find the details in “Juicio de amparo indirecto 213/2012-III” (Judgement of Indirect Amparo 213/2012-III) published by the Juzgado Quinto de Distrito en Materia Civil en el Estado de Jalisco (Fifth District Court in Civil Matters of the State of Jalisco) on March 8, 2012.
It is important to understand that this ruling does not change the Civil Code, nor does it create new law. Article 1032 still exists as written.
However, if you use the procedure outlined in this article to sue a delinquent owner, and that owner appeals using this constitutional argument, you will likely lose your suit, and will have to pay the delinquent owner their legal costs, as well as being out of pocket for your own costs. If, as was the case for the Guadalajara condo, the case had proceeded to the auction stage, these out of pocket legal costs combined with the paid-out costs for the defendant were substantial (I believe about $70K to $80K pesos).
Until the state Congress rewrites this article, and modifies the Civil Code, a condo’s best approach may be just to sue the owner for the unpaid fees as a debt.
The problem with this is that, depending on the back-log of cases in the local court, this could take 1-1/2 to 2 years. It’s unlikely such an owner would pay fees during the duration of the suit. Therefore, if you won, you’d likely then have to initiate a new suit to recover these new unpaid fees. And on and on…
The ideal, in my opinion, is what was intended by Article 1032 – removing the problem once and for all.
As I mentioned in my last post, we have a modified suit before the courts now that we hope will accomplish this goal, but which we hope cannot be overturned using this constitutional argument. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know if it will succeed. Once it has concluded, one way or another, I will include all the details of what we learned in the “Jalisco Condo Manual – Second Edition.”
We also intend to work to lobby the state legislature to make the necessary changes to the wording of Article 1032 to make it comply with the Constitution. Although they are continually updating and changing the Civil Code, this issue is likely not high on their list of priorities. We hope to change this, and get it on their radar. However, this is a future project…
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