It may appear that I am a proper responsible grown-up here in Spain. I have a bank account, pay an astonishing amount in taxes, and have an apartment contract to my name. It all looks pretty neat and tidy.
However. Most of this is because responsibility has been forced upon me while I tried my best to wriggle out of it.
When my roommate whose name was on the contract moved out, another trapping of adulthood finally ensnared me – no matter how much wriggling I did.
Of course, this being Spain, making such an everyday change was a seamless process that hardly took any effort at all.
Two months later, I’m still in the midst of a seemingly endless battle with Spanish bureaucracy.
Here’s an idea of what a simple process it is to change the name on your apartment contract in Spain!
Step 1: Try your best to avoid becoming the person in charge.
Why on earth wouldn’t your departing roommate want to have two housing contracts at once?
Step 2: Fail miserably and accept your new role as flat dictator.
Maybe it won’t be so bad…
Step 3: Collect all relevant information and paperwork from the person whose departure leaves you in charge.
Tip: Don’t burn any bridges here. You will almost certainly need to chat to this person again, and again, and again.
Make a list of companies you will need to call (phone, electricity, water, gas, and the housing company).
Step 4: Call the first person on the list.
The phone company seems like an easy one. Call.
You will hear a jazzy pop song as you wait. By the time you have finished waiting, you will probably have memorized the entire song – they’ve only got the one on an endless loop.
Finally talk to a real person. At rapid-fire speed and in a well-practiced monotone, they will run through a list of conditions and terms. Say “sí” at each pause and hope you haven’t agreed to anything extortionate.
Step 5: OK, that wasn’t too bad. Next!
Let’s see, electricity seems fairly basic. Call them, you can do this!
You get greeted by a robotic recorder that refuses to recognize your foreign accent. Feel embarrassed and cringe while you wait to get passed on to a real person.
At last, an actual person! Only as soon as they start speaking, you realize the company has outsourced their call center to a country with an accent you don’t understand. Try your best to keep up as a fresh wave of humiliation comes over you.
Oh, and they can’t make the change. It turns out it’s in the name of somebody who hasn’t lived in the apartment in years. You should probably go get that figured out.
Step 6: Get in touch with your old roommate.
They have a vague idea of something electrical that needs to be fixed to the tune of €400 before the contract can be changed. Oh, and that the housing company refuses to pay it, so good luck!
Step 7: Call the housing company to arrange any paperwork.
Yes, yes, the woman on the phone will be delighted to help you out with everything. Just call back in a week to finalize things. Great! That’s one thing checked off the list.
Step 8: Have a restorative cup of tea, beer, or wine.
That’s enough for today. You’ve made a good start.
Step 9: Call the third company on your list
Discover there are no bills past 2009 in the apartment from the water company. Nobody has any information about updated contracts or anything like that.
Ask your old roommate what’s up with that. They have no idea.
Step 10: Call the fourth and final company
Gas, last one. Only…they’ll need to send someone to the house who will call you later. Maybe.
Step 11: Check in with your housing company for an update.
They seem to have wiped your conversation from last week from their memory entirely and have no idea what you’re talking about.
Start again from zero.
Step 12: Cry
Or, if you’re not one for tears, practice your very best Spanish swear words. You’re going to find many opportunities to use them soon, just you wait and see!
Step 13: Spend the next few weeks re-attempting steps 5-11 in any order
Be amazed at how many customer service agents are suffering from memory lapses or an illness that prevents them from doing any work at all.
Step 14: At any time, feel free to cry again.
The phrase “But this isn’t even my fault!” is a great one to wail.
If you are really dedicated, find some other foreign friends to declare that THIS sort of behavior is exactly the reason for Spain’s economic crisis.
Step 15: Finally, the elusive gas man appears
He was supposed to come at 7:30 on Friday evening, but has shown up at 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
Decide that as he has finally graced you with the honor of his presence, it is perhaps best not to quibble about silly things like days and times.
Step 15: Have an unexpected medical emergency
Despite having attended you for three years with zero complaints, all of a sudden medical staff will refuse to see you because your address changed (three years ago).
Listen to a variety of different excuses from different people – none of which are compatible with the previous excuse.
When you get upset about this, all staff will treat you as if you are being completely unreasonable.
Step 16: Receive irate messages from former roommate
Fantastic, their bank account is still getting charged for all of this.
And now that all the companies were unsuccessful in their attempt to take the money from the old account, they’ve added fines too.
Step 17: Attempt to get your paperwork sorted out so you can actually get medical attention
Ah, but you’ll need approximately four OTHER pieces of paperwork that involve something from other people – including the understandably now-grumpy roommate.
Oh, and today the town hall can’t even do that particular bit of administrative paperwork for technical reasons. Tomorrow you can’t come because there are meetings, and well, the day after that is Friday, so…
Step 18: Cry while dwelling on thoughts of imminent death
Who will be the new flat dictator if you die?
Step 19: Go to sign new flat contract. Realize the housing company thinks you need to pay an extra €400 for printing out this bit of paper.
They have literally copied and pasted the old contract with a single change, and somehow this warrants hundreds of euros in fees.
Step 20: Lose a big freelancing client (who conveniently owes you quite a bit of money)
Oh good, now that you’ve really started bleeding cash is the perfect time for your work stream to dry up.
Will they even pay you? Only time will tell!
Step 21: Receive angry letter from the phone company saying you owe money
But wait, we got this sorted out six weeks ago – they were the nice ones!
While their letter unequivocally states you have to pay – and rather more than usual – it does not say what for. Call them and ask what the charges are for.
You will be told this number is only to pay bills. They cannot tell you what the bill is for, nor can you talk to anyone except the billing department.
They insist you must pay first in order to find out what you are paying for. Then they hang up on you three times in a row.
Step 22: Repeat steps 5-11 ad nauseum
Marvel in the ability of Spanish customer service agents to make you feel like you’re living in a dystopian novel.
Step 23: Discover your washing machine has tried to launch itself out of the apartment.
As the newly crowned flat dictator, this is decidedly YOUR problem now. Begin to really, really comprehend the expression “I’m bleeding money”.
Ponder whether the washing machine had the right idea in attempting to leap out the window.
Step 24: Drink. Just drink.
Thank god it’s the weekend. Just try your best not to count how many weeks you’ve been trying to sort this problem out for (seven and counting!)
Optional: Repeat crying.
Step 25: Vow never to move in case you have to go through all this again.
And then probably drink and cry again.
That, my lovely readers, has been an approximate summary of my past two months!
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to all my friends who have put up with my ocean of tears these past two months. Who knows? Someday I might even go back to being a cheerful person who doesn’t cry multiple times a week!
Cautionary tale…thank you
I find myself in a similar situation
Oh no! Best of luck – I hope yours goes more smoothly.
Just repeat step 24….over and over! I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. It sounds horrible, but I have to admit, your post made me laugh out loud. It will all work itself out, right? It must. I lived in Greece for several years and felt similar pain.
Haha thanks, Lindsey! You’ve got to laugh about stuff like this, right? I’ve heard equally awful things about doing paperwork-related stuff in Greece as well. I’m sure it’ll have to work itself out at some point!
Oh. My God. I thought my running around lately was karma for not having had big issues in the past. Pour yourself another glass of wine, girl.
Haha cheers to that!
Oh Dear Jess. How simple it all sounds on paper! Hope there is light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t an oncoming train of bureaucracy. With you in Spirit ( make mine a Rioja! ) xxxxx
Haha I hope it’s not that train as well! I’ll have a glass of Rioja too please. 🙂 Hope all’s well! xxxxxx
I’m so sorry to hear about all your troubles, but I can totally sympathize as an expat living in Madrid. They really love paper work here, and don’t make anything easy. Hopefully things can get sorted out soon!
They definitely love paperwork here! The good news is it should be sorted out soon – though of course, now that I’ve said that…haha.
What a palava…kudos to you for making it work, I’m sure it will pay off in the long run!
Let’s hope so! Thanks, Dan.
Wow, thought it was bad in the UK dealing with utility companies and house moves. Hope eventually you can get all resolved and that your freelancing client pays up too – as a self employed person I know how that hurts.
Great blog by the way – found it really useful when I visited Barcelona last year. Sure beats the rainy suburbs of Manchester.
Well, these kinds of companies seem to be pretty terrible worldwide – but the Spanish have got a particular knack for these kinds of things haha.
Glad you found the blog useful, that’s lovely to hear. 🙂
Oh man, I’m getting the worst secondhand anxiety from reading all of the mishaps and customer dis-service you’ve had to endure recently! So sorry you’ve had to go through all of that 🙁 I was just thinking the other day about how complicated Adult Life is in America what with all of the insurances, retirement planning, and car expenses you have to deal with here…and then I read something like this and remember how glad I am not to have to worry about utilities in Spanish. ¡Ánimo!
It’s almost over! Still not quite there, but this (hopefully) is the last push.
Have you tried just changing the bank details rather than putting all this stuff in your own name? Utilities are often happy to do this because it means they actually get money off someone… If all else fails, try the Agència Catalana del Consum. Consumer offices are usually helpful, they know the law and the typical tricks that these companies get up to, and they’re free!
Unfortunately, it all had to go in my name – but that office sounds very helpful and I had no idea about it. Thank you so much for the suggestion!
One useful trick – Find the name of someone who is a supervisor of some sort – use the website to get this info. Wear your most respectable clothes (even if you have to borrow a suit.)Go in person to the office, ask to see the person whose name you have who is a supervisor, and SIT THERE until he/ she sees you. Once you are in his/her office, be as nice as pie and ask for HELP with puppy-dog eyes. Throw yourself on his/her mercy. If it is a he, be an Innocent Young Blonde Thing if you have to. If it is a she, explain that you have sought out a woman because everyone knows it is really the woman in the office who gets things done. In either case, make it a matter of pride for them to solve your problem. Good luck!
Any tips for determining which apartment listings may or may not be too good to be true? I’ve been looking on Roomster a little here and there, and I’ve seen lots from one or two people with fancy looking modern apartments in the heart of the city for under $500 a month … They just can’t be real, can they?
Hey Jenni-Li! Sorry for taking so long to write back, it’s been a crazy month. I think that does probably sound too good to be true – although it may be that they’re only including the rent, not the bills. If they say it’s the total price, I think that’s almost certainly not true. Does that help at all? 🙂
Yeah that could be it for some. Though since this comment i found a strangely large number of postings with adult content in the user photos (that was gross)
Im largely not having much luck in the “get a job and find a place to move” department. My asthma makes it real tough apparently. But i hadn’t considered the utilities part so thanks for the tip. 😀 now, you wouldn’t happen to know a non crazy person who needs a non crazy roommate who cleans cooks and will (hopefully) be able to get a steady paycheck? J/K XD
Its so worth the trouble to be able to go back but geez…
Oh noo, really? That’s definitely gross!
Sorry to hear you’re still not having much luck. Have you tried Idealista? That’s where most of my friends look for rooms! I don’t know anybody looking for a roommate right now though. 🙂
Decent rooms go shockingly fast here. It takes a while to find one, so if you see one you’re even considering say you’re interested right away. That goes for both responding to interesting ads and seeing one in person that you like. I rented out a room in two hours or something insane, and it could have gone in twenty minutes had we taken the first person we liked who came to see it.
Ha, it’s been awhile since I’ve commented here!
I didn’t read your entire post but trust me, I had a VERY similar experience with my management company in NYC last fall when one of my roommates moved out. We had to find a new roommate to replace her which was a relatively stress-free process. However, after notifying the management company one of my roommates on the lease was moving out and a new roommate was moving in, they made us resubmit ALL our paperwork (including my parents who are the guarantors–they were super thrilled about that) that I had submitted two years ago because it was seen as a “new lease” due to the new roommate moving in and my other roommate becoming the second tenant on the lease .. Due to the weird rules of my building, only two people can be on the lease. Any extra person living in the apartment is an “occupant.” The guy at the management company office was pretty useless and very slow responding to e-mails and because he was Jewish, seemed to never be in the office for random Jewish holidays, It was so infuriating, not to mention they increased the rent by a $100 which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things (luckily it’s a rent-stabilized building). Oh and when our next month’s rent came in after we had everything squared away, our rent slip indicated we had not paid the previous month’s rent–even though we had. I had handed the check IN PERSON at the leasing office to our idiot contact. I hate dealing with management companies and leasing offices, they are the worst!!