The user of the nuevovecinos.com forum Lidia had bought a new apartment in a promotion in Valdebebas (Madrid). But he considered that the house had flaws and, like many other citizens, he went online to complain. “In addition to the insulation problems with the cold and acoustic, on top of that we have leaks, in some houses there are leaks in terraces, bathrooms, kitchen,” he wrote in a message in one of his threads in November 2018. Others affected were responding with regrets Similar.
One of them was Diego, who has asked that we not use his last name. Diego still did not have the apartment, which was to be delivered to him at a later stage, and wrote in response to Lidia: “I find it a bit unfortunate that apartments with these prices and which claim to be perfectly isolated from the outside for energy savings present these problems. If it happens to us in the second phase, we will take appropriate legal measures;) ”. Of all the comments, the promoter, Valenor, sued Diego in 2019 for insults and slander. The houses were presented as “the most techie urbanization in Spain”.
This summer, two years later, the Provincial Court of Madrid has dismissed the case. Due to comments on the internet, Diego has lived under the threat of an embargo worth 50,000 euros and a sentence that could have led to two years in prison for slander. His partner, who never wrote anything, was also included in the complaint. “We have both lived it with a lot of stress. In my case, a psychiatrist indicated that I had a clinical picture compatible with anxiety disorder in November 2019, ”he explains to EL PAÍS in a series of messages. “I don’t think it’s right for a company to have the power to do this and get away with it,” he adds.
Diego could not believe that someone was complaining against him for this reason. And less than the investigating judge sent the case to trial after analyzing it, with the increasing risk of conviction. He is still not very clear why, beyond speculating with the most probable reason. “I understand that we were chosen so that users who were complaining about their homes could give a lesson,” he says. “Out of all those who made comments, they decided to select me for their dissuasive complaint of similar comments. I did not understand how homes of more than 600,000 euros could present these problems, “he adds.
The law firm that handled his case, De Carlos Remón, has not responded to repeated messages from this newspaper. The promoter for its part returned a call to say that they were not going to make statements because they saw the case as “something of the past.”
Diego’s lawyer, David Bravo, also believes that the cause was to silence complaining neighbors to continue selling apartments, but believes that doing so with a complaint without a clear basis was irresponsible. “The promoter has achieved the effect of silencing the residents of Valdebebas but it has also achieved the opposite effect. Because the comments I see on the internet when it comes to talking about Valenor are very critical, ”says Bravo.
“I would like to be able to buy a flat that costs 600,000 euros, if I could, knowing that if something is wrong I will be able, what less, to complain without being afraid of the company to which I will give my money,” he adds. It is a sample, albeit delayed, of the famous Streisand effect, which establishes that a fact spreads more when someone who has an interest in it not being known tries to silence it. The attempt to silence causes many more people to find out.
A “tortuous narrative”
Bravo regrets that during the process the lawyers of the other party have quoted him in their writings and have even added a Twitter thread and the accusation of having made a “tortuous narration” to the media. This newspaper exchanged messages in December with the lawyer who was handling the case for Valenor and did not want to make any public statement.
The big surprise for him was the decision of the investigating judge to send this case to trial last fall. “If I, as a lawyer, were to file the same complaint that this prestigious office filed, I would not count on it being admitted for processing. [uno de los abogados que firma los escritos de acusación, José Javier Polo, ha sido fiscal durante 30 años, cinco de ellos como fiscal jefe provincial de Madrid]”Says Bravo. “I would never have the luck that a complaint with so little foundation and qualified by three magistrates as ‘lacking the minimum rigor’ had the minimum procedural length. I don’t know what happened here, but the fact that the plaintiffs and their lawyers are not just anybody can make Diego and his wife wonder whether here complaints signed by some are taken more seriously than by others, ”he explains.
It is not uncommon for a company to accuse a user or consumer of insults or even slander, which includes prison sentences, but they are cases that affect the right to freedom of expression and usually do not have a path if there is not a very obvious basis. “For example, when someone complains that ‘this company has scammed me’, the judges are usually fine and do not say that they are being charged with the crime of fraud. What is a crime, they say, is to impute facts to him, not qualifications such as saying ‘scammed’, explains Bravo. “If I say that I have been” scammed “and I explain that it is because it has seemed very expensive, I am not imputing criminal acts. For it to be slander you must explain how you have been cheated and that it is a lie ”. explains Bravo.
In the case of De Diego, the comments were only his opinion about problems that other neighbors had and for which he was interested in the day the house was handed over to him. In fact, although criticism on the internet has subsided, neighbors continue to protest against the state of some buildings. “There is another group of owners greater than 25% in which we are included that is promoting the change of administrator of the community because it was chosen by Valenor,” explains Diego. The reason is, again, the deficiencies that some neighbors appreciate in common areas of the development several years after delivery.
“Of course no one has published anything anywhere and it will not be for lack of content as there are numerous videos and photographs,” adds Diego.
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