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The Spanish constitution protects the rights of people with disabilities. In particular section 49 of the Spanish constitution states:

The public authorities shall carry out a policy of preventive care, treatment, rehabilitation and integration of the physically, sensorial and mentally handicapped by giving them the specialized care they require, and affording them special protection for the enjoyment of the rights granted by this Part to all citizens.

Additionally Spain ratified in 2008 the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This international agreement was crystallized into law 26/2011 of the 1st August, modifying several previous laws that were not in complete compliance with this UN convention.

The Spanish government and the Regional governments take these into account when designing any kind of law. The “Ley de Propiedad Horizontal” (horizontal property law), the law that regulates communities of owners in Spain, is no exception to this and a series of different measures have been taken in order to defend the right of people with disabilities.

Physical barriers and the Horizontal property law

Works in the common areas

In construction terminology a physical barrier (barrera arquitectónica in Spanish) is anything that can prevent a person with disabilities to access a specific area. For example this could be a step at the entrance of a building that prevents wheelchairs to enter.

The Horizontal property law is very specific in its articles 10 and 11 and force Communities of owners to take the necessary measures in case a person with disabilities (or more than 70 years old) works or lives in an area within the perimeter of the community.

In this case Article 10, tells us that the community will have to make works in order to make the common areas “accessible” to the disabled person. This can include masonry works or the installation of electronic or electromechanical devices (like wheelchairs lifts). Article 10 caps the maximum expense that the community is entitled to spend for one owner at 12 times the ordinary monthly community fee.

Any disagreement between the owners on the works to be done will be solved during the community of owners meeting. Additionally the arbitration of a legal expert will help the community to reach a satisfactory decision.

The maintenance and upgrade of these new installations will follow exactly the same rules that any other common area facility.

Once the works are completed, an owner cannot then request any further extensions or modifications. Of course the community will have to do the standard repair and maintenance.

If, however, the community of owners do agree to do additional works on top of the existing ones and there are owners against the works, it will be impossible to make them pay or increase their community fees if the cost of their share of the improvements is more than 3 months of ordinary fees.

If the works make an area of the urbanisation unfit for use to some of the owners, then it will be necessary to get their written approval.

The procedure

The owner that is requesting accessibility works in the common areas will have to follow this procedure:

  1. Notify the community with a Burofax (certified letter) with return receipt, to the representative of the community of owners including:
    1. The motivation for the works, specifying that they are targeted at removing a physical barrier for a disabled person
    2. Project details, explaining the works and showing that the structural element of the building won’t be affected
    3. Certificate of disability or certificate demonstrating that the person living in the property is more than 70 years old
  2. The community of owners will have to answer the request within 60 days, accepting or rejecting the works. In case of rejection the community will have to clearly explain the reasons for the answer, or will have to give an alternative project.
  3. If the community of owners do not reply within 60 days, the works will be automatically approved.

Voting in the community meeting

The approval or disapproval of a work intended to remove a physical barrier will require a simple majority during a community of owners meeting. If the works or change of use of an area requires the change of the statutes of the community a simple majority vote will be required. This is in contrast with a normal change of the community statutes that requires a unanimous vote.

Ownership

The installation will always belong to the community. For example, a disabled owner selling his property won’t be allowed to take with him any wheelchair lift installed in the common areas.

Construction technical rules (in Spanish Código Técnico de la Edificación)

Law 38/1999 of the 5th of November gives the precise procedures and rules for constructions in Spain. This law refers to the “Código Técnico de la Edificación”, a set of long and exhaustive regulations that can be found at http://www.codigotecnico.org/

The DB-SUA (Basic document on Use and Accessibility security) was updated on June 2012.

Accessible paths

There will have to be an “accessible path” (i.e. a path usable and safe for people with disabilities) between at least one entrance of the urbanisation to the entrance of the property where the person with disabilities lives or works. Moreover within the urbanisation disabled people are entitled to request accessible path from their property to different common areas (parking, cellars, swimming pool…)

An accessible path has the following characteristics:

  1. Slopes: Steps are not allowed and will require ramps
  2. Space for turning: An area with a diameter of 1.5m free of obstacles will have to be present: at the entrance, at the end of corridors of more than 10m and in front of lifts
  3. Corridors: Width of at least 1.2m (1.1m for residential buildings). Exceptionally narrowing of no less than 1m for a length of maximum 0.65m
  4. Doors: Clear width of 0.8m. Lock and handle should be placed at a height between 0.8m and 1.2m. Opening force of no more than 25N (no more than 65N for fire doors)
  5. Floors: No loose elements like sand or gravel. Doormats or rugs will be attached to the ground.
  6. Ramps: see below

Ramps for accessible paths

According to article 4.3 of DB-SUA any access with an inclination of more than 4% is considered a ramp (ramps for vehicles are belonging do a different part of the document). Ramps will have a maximum inclination of 12% except:

  1. Ramps for disabled access (for example for wheelchairs) will have a maximum inclination of:
    1. 10% if the length is less than 3m
    2. 8% length is less than 6m
    3. 6% for any other case
  2. Ramps for both vehicles and people but not for disabled access will have a maximum inclination of 16%
  3. Ramps for disabled access (for example for wheelchairs) will have a maximum transversal inclination of 2%

The length of a ramp for disabled access will have to be less than 9m, with a minimum width of 1.2m. They will be straight or with a maximum radius of bend of at least 30m. There will be a horizontal area of at least 1.2m at the beginning and at the end of the ramp.

The landing areas of the ramps will have a minimum length of 1.5m. When there is a change of direction between two sections of a ramp, the horizontal landing area between the sections will have the same width or larger of the ramp. The landing areas will have to be free of obstacles and in particular won’t be affected by the movement of a door.

There won’t be any corridor of a width of less than 1.2m nor a door placed at less than 1.5m from the start of a ramp for disabled access.

Ramps for disabled access

Figure 1

Minimal access spaces for accessibility paths

Figure 2