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Many old country homes purchased in Spain are in need of restoration or renovation. It is always recommended to first check the building for faults and ask the expert advice of a local architect, as often the renovation costs are too high for the property to be purchased in the first place.

There are strict planning regulations in Spain. Nowadays more and more local administrations enforce these regulations rigorously, certainly a big change from just few years ago. Failure to follow the planning regulations can result in a fine. In addition, not adhering to these rules may have disastrous results i.e. that the property becomes impossible to sell or you may be ordered to demolish it.

If the modernisation or repair of the building requires making external alterations, such as erecting external walls, installing larger windows or new doorways, you need planning permission and a building license from the local town hall. This is called in Spain “Licencia de Obra” (works license).

There are basically a couple of types of building license in Spain.

  • “Licencia de Obra Mayor” (major works licence) is needed for extending the house or changing its structure. Everything that could affect the structure of the property requires authorisation from the local council and a project from an architect, for example erecting or demolishing load-bearing walls, to open up windows in walls or ceilings, to extend or diminish surface area.
  • A “Licencia de Obra Menor” (minor works licence) is required for any minor change to a building like for example: Conservation and maintenance work: Substitution of damaged elements by other identical ones, cleaning and interior painting of walls, patios or balconies that are not visible from the exterior.

Within these basic groups there are different kinds of license and each one will need different documentation.

Major Works “Licencia de Obra Mayor”

  • “Licencia de obra mayor por nueva edificación” (major works license for new construction) which involves, as its name suggests, a new construction.
    • Of “nueva planta” (Brand new building): a new construction from scratch.
    • Of “ampliación” (extension): increasing the size of an existing construction.
  • A “Licencia de obra mayor por rehabilitación de edificios” (major works License for building restoration) refers to historical buildings in city centres. These buildings are considered as being of national interest and are catalogued in the “Plan General de Ordenación Urbana” (General Urban Development Plan). The rehabilitation can be either total or partial.

What documentation is needed?  It looks like a lot of paperwork, but you will be helped by your architect and your solicitor.

  • Official application form
  • Payment form for administration fees.
  • Project, signed by a competent technician and duly endorsed by the corresponding college.
  • Original Certificate issued by the college that accredits the intervention of a Technical Architect or Foreman in the work.
  • Form from the Ministry of public works and the Economy on statistics of Constructions and Houses (to be filled in by the architect of the Project): Original and a photocopy.
  • Most recent title deed of the parcel to be constructed (simple copy or collated photocopy).
  • Installation License, if the construction to be erected is dedicated for a specific activity.

Minor works “Licencia de Obra Menor”

  • In houses: Non structural partial renovation of repair, ground renovation, modification or substitution, ceilings, walls, stucco, plated, installation of plumbing, electricity, heating, cleaning and others, painting, stuccoed and other coatings and interior carpentry
  • Partial repairs to the outer façade of buildings: façades, balconies, salient elements

What documents are required?

  • Standardized application form.
  • Photographs of the present sate of the area to renovate.
  • Description of the works to be carried out
  • Budget breakdown of the costs involved
  • Health and safety study
  • Plans of the project

Taxation

With these details the town hall will calculate the tax amount for the building approval. This is different in each community ranging from 2% to 6% of the total costs of your estimated price.

Other issues to consider

If you are building a property near the beach your property will have to conform with the coastal law and in this case to issue the building license the Town Hall will ask the builder for a report from the Coastal department and the Department of the Environment of the Junta de Andalucía, (authorities must restrict building within 100 metres of the beach and establish a zone of influence up to one kilometer inland).

If you plan to do major restoration or building work straight after the property purchase you should make sure that a conditional clause is included in the contract, stating that the purchase is dependent on obtaining the planning and building permission. Your solicitor helping you during the transaction can handle this matter.

If you are building from scratch you will normally have to pay the builder in instalments and this should be stipulated in the contract that should be written up by your trusted lawyer.  The final payment should not be handed over until the builder provides you with the following documents:

  • ‘Fin de obra’ this is the certificate from the town hall saying that the building has been completed.
  • ‘Boletin’ from the electrician and plumber.  This is a certificate saying that the installations comply with current regulations and you have to take these to the local utility suppliers to get a contract for the water and electricity.
  • ‘Licencia de primera ocupacion’.  This is the habitation license which is issued by the town hall certifying that the property has been completed according to the plans submitted when the building license was applied for, and is suitable for living in.

If you are buying a property off plan you should have the habitation license before you sign the deeds, and you should not move into the property until the deeds have been signed.  The deeds then have to be registered at the land registry and this is where your property will be actually put into your name.  The deeds do not show who the legal owner of the property is, it is the extract from the land registry which has to be taken into account.