Here you will find answers to many problems that expats may come across when embarking themselves in building or buying a place in the sun. These solutions and explanations shown here are the result of more than 25 years of experience working as an architect in Spain. These articles have been published previously in one of the best newspapers for expats in Spain, "Costa Blanca News".
If you have a particular problem which is not covered here, do not hesitate to send me an email and I will try to respond as soon as possible... and free of charge, of course.
There has been a norm in Spain since 1944 called “Order of the Ministry of the Interior of 29 February 1944”. That law laid down the minimum conditions to be met by all kinds of homes, regardless of ownership throughout Spain. Believe it or not this legislation is still in force in several autonomous regions (including the Murcia region) where they do not have a particular law which lay out the minimum conditions to be met in the design of any type of home.
Now that we have 17 regional governments we have 17 different regulations governing the design of a new dwelling. In this article we will analyse the closest to us geographically speaking i.e. the Valencia Regional regulations:
The Valencia region
In the Valencia region there is the Order of December the 7th of 2009 from the Ministry of Environment, Water, Urbanism and Housing which approves the conditions of quality design and development.
In the Murcia region there is the law 5/1995 of 7 April, on living conditions in residential buildings which also recommends general guideline for accessibility for the disable. These regulations it promotes the field of accessibility for the disable rather than dealing with the ground of habitability, so in Murcia we still use the Order of the Ministry of the Interior of 29th of February of 1944.
In the Catalan community
The Catalan Government approved the October 31, 2012 a decree regulating the living conditions to be met by households and reduced from 40m2 to 36 m2 the minimum area that a dwelling must have for any new construction. This regulation intended to relax the requirements for housing design and adapt to the new economic reality of the country, modifying the decree passed in 2009, which stated that the new homes should have a minimum area of 40 square meters.
As a working example let's take the Valencia regulations.
While there may be some slight variations between the laws of other communities and the national dated from 1944, in most cases the limitations in terms of sizes and minimum numbers of rooms are very similar. I must say however that apart from the regulations of the autonomous communities, the national regulations we also have to take into account the municipal and local planning regulations.
Another very important to keep in mind is that when we compare different legislations we have to apply that legislation that is most restrictive.
First we must distinguish whether the building is new construction or rehabilitation. Secondly we will consider if the housing will be adapted to be used by disabled persons. Thirdly, if the use of the building is for business letting, i.e hotel, bed and breakfast etc.
Minimum dimensions for a newly built house.
Minimum floor areas
The net areas within a house type must be 30 m2.
The net areas within an apartment type of accommodation can be reduced to 24 m2.
The houses can have different degrees of compartmentalization, depending on the internal layout.
The premises that make up the house will have the minimum areas shown below:
Types of premises
Net area M2
In houses of two or more bedrooms, at least one of them will have 10m2 of net area, without including storage space.
The laundry can be located in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the toilet or in a specific enclosure for that function, always having sufficient spaces required for placement and use of equipment provided.
Relationship between different spaces or enclosures.
The relationship between living spaces shall comply with the following conditions:
a) The space where a toilet is located must be an enclosed and compartmented room, which can also accommodate an area for personal hygiene.
b) Every space or area with a bath or shower is considered a “wet area” for the purposes of applying the Spanish regulations of “Indoor Air Quality” from the Technical Building Code, and the internal finishes must comply with that established in Article. 5 d), of the aforementioned regulations. (This regulation specifies the rules that we have to take into account when ventilation wet rooms)
c) When dwellings have more than one bedroom, one may access to a space for personal hygiene from the circulation spaces of the house.
d) The bathroom and toilet will not be a through access to another room or enclosure.
Ceiling heights and spaces between furniture.
1. In houses the minimum headroom is 2.50 m, allowing up to 10% of the total net area with a height of 2.20m. In circulation spaces, bathrooms, toilets and kitchens, the minimum headroom shall be 2.20 m.
2. Every rooms or enclosures should be able to register two types of minimum circles:
a) The circles must be free of obstacles, allowing free movement for the user within the house. These figures can overlap each other, if the functions are grouped in the same enclosure.
b) The figures to typify furniture must allow the proper placement of furniture in the house. These figures cannot overlap with any other figure, being designed each in its specific type of furniture. The doors opening can invade the figure free of obstacles and figures for furniture.
Bedrooms Minimum dimensions
Figure free of obstacle
1,2m Diameter circle must be inscribed between sanitary ware and wall enclosures
1,2m Diameter circle must be inscribed between furniture
1,2m Diameter circle
1,2m Diameter circle
3,00m x 2,50m
1,6m between internal walls
1,10m x 1,20m
One at least must be 2,60m x 2,60
ò 4,10m x 1,80m.
2,00m x 1,80m
On my last article I did explained the different regulations which emanated from the many Spanish regional communities on the minimum standards accepted for a minimum size house and how we still use in some regions a law from 1944 such as the Murcia region.
We embarked on describing a minimum size house in the Valencia region using its Order of December the 7th of 2009 from the Ministry of Environment, Water, Urbanism and Housing which approves the conditions of quality design and development.
In that article we also specified the minimum sizes for each room and the minimum size for a dwelling which happens to be 30 m2 of net area or 24m2 if it is an apartment. By net area I mean the floor area excluding external and internal walls, in other words the actual area that you can walk on.
Even sanitary ware must have a minimum acceptable size, for instance the minimum width accepted for hand basins, wc, bathtub and shower is 70cm, for the depth it is accepted the depth provided by the manufacturer.
There are minimum usable spaces (in front of these sanitary ware) which we must comply with which must be free of obstacles, for instance we must have 70cm usable space in front of a hand basin, toilet and bidet and 60cm in front of the shower plate and bathtub.
What about the laundry area?
Even the laundry area needs to be of a minimum size although this zone could be incorporated into the kitchen or bathroom if there isn’t a zone with exclusive dedication for this purpose. The washing machine and tumble dryer should have a width of 60cm although the dryer can be located on top of the washing machine or vice versa. There must be a washing basin and this sanitary ware must be at least 45cm wide. The depth area for the aforementioned apparatus is of 60 cm. In front of this equipment you must have at least 60cm of working space.
Vertical and horizontal circulation spaces.
All dwellings must have an entrance opening with a minimum width of 80cm and 2m high and the house should have at least one other opening (which could be a window) with a minimum width of 90cm wide with a total are of 1.50m2. This space is to be able to carry in large pieces of furniture.
The minimum width for corridors are 90 cm although it will be acceptable if narrows up to 80cm due to some structural element for a maximum length of 60cm.
For staircases the minimum height is 2.20m, although it will be acceptable height of up to 2m due to some structural element for a maximum of 25% of the total area of the staircase.
The landings must have a minimum width equal to its length with a minimum length of 70 cm, measured at the centre line of the stairs.
In buildings of more than one dwelling which have an itinerary for the disable, this itinerary must prolong, inside the house, to a bedroom and also to a room for personal hygiene. All door openings in this itinerary must have minimum widths of 80cm.
Storage and equipment.
Every house will have storage space for clothes and belongings which will not be less than 0.80 m3 per user with a minimum depth of 55 cm, which can take the form of inbuilt wardrobes, or a furniture wardrobe, or both.
Drying of linen and bedding.
For drying linen we may choose one of the following solutions:
Natural drying system in an outdoor space such as an enclosed patio o terrace.
A natural drying system on an exterior facade or interior of the building but must have protected the views from the street with some sort of screens.
In any case the drying systems must not interfere with the necessary openings for ventilation and lighting for the rest of the house.
In all houses, the areas stated below, will have at least the following minimum equipment:
Kitchen: A sink with hot and cold water supply and drainage with water tap.
Space for a dishwasher, a cooker, oven and a fridge with electrical connection. Space for cooking. Minimum bench space of 2.50m length, including the sink and cooking area.
Finishes of surfaces.
The wet rooms (kitchen, bathroom and toilet) shall be lined with washable material and be waterproof to a minimum height of 2.00 m. The coating on the cooking area will also require being fireproof.
If kitchens are located in an enclosure where other tasks are carried out, this space must also have all walls up to a minimum height of 2.00 m, finished off with washable material and be waterproof to a minimum height of 2.00m. The material must be also incombustible.
The Spanish Cadastral Office is scanning the whole of the Coast looking for new builds, renovations or changes of use of buildings that were previously invisible to them.
Obtaining fresh money. And so far, many local town halls are rubbing their hands as they are receiving a significant economic injection via the IBI, (property tax) but obviously to the annoyance of those owners who have ignored their obligation of informing the local authorities of works carried out years ago.
Only Alicante has 450,000 households with a lower rateable value to its real one. A total of 449,304 homes and buildings located in the province of Alicante are likely to be discovered soon by the government plan to detect irregular properties that violate the Land Registry law. Cadastral regularization plan to locate undeclared construction in recent years includes 107 Valencian municipalities and a total of 911,132 buildings, 78,061 of them in Castellón, Valencia 383,767, and 449,304 in Alicante.
The review to be performed is based on the third additional provision of the revised text of the Law on Real Estate Cadastre (Royal Legislative Decree 1/2004 of March 5th), introduced by paragraph three of Article 16 of Law 16 / 2012 of 27 December, amending various tax measures aimed at consolidating public finances.
A 10% of all buildings are fraudulent.
It is anticipated that at least 10% of these municipalities’ properties discrepancies will be located, so their owners must pay the corresponding IBI increase for those changes. The government forecast is that almost all Spain will have passed inspection later this year, but the new publication in the BOE estimated completion date for these new municipalities will be in July 2017.
At least 7% of the property to which the cadastral office have notified the new IBI increased could have been mistaken. It is important to scrutinize the cadastral proposal because any discrepancies with the assessment by the administration on your favour will mean a benefit for life.
This massive scrutiny
This massive scrutiny, taking place throughout Spain (except the Basque Country and Navarra), began in 176 municipalities in 2013 and has spread to the rest of Spain.
As contained in the State Budget during the last year 1.5 million notification of regularization was sent from the land registry to properties owners informing of errors on their properties and let me add here that most of them were to notify an increase in their IBI.
But the property hunt if the building description contained in their records match the reality does not end there. Having covered the main population centres they are putting the focus on major developments in the Coast areas during the first semester using aerial orthophotos inspections, together with physical visits to see the actual alterations. They are focusing on small towns where illegal construction predominates.
Later, on the second half of this year and the first of 2017, the search will be extended inland.
There are 42 municipalities in the province of Alicante where the cadastral regularization procedure has been completed.
The idea is to prosecute any tax fraud which incorporates new construction or large alterations, rehabilitations or reforms in buildings that have not been declared. The aim is to ensure that the cadastral description of each property fits the urban reality.
How the regularization process starts.
The legal procedure commence by comparing new aerial orthophotos with the information contained in their records, these aerial images are taken from aircraft or satellite and checked for alterations. Inspection visits are also made to suspected properties.
Owners have to pay a 60 euros fee, that money is intended to finance the inspection work.
The tax increase of this rateable value of the property will affects the quota set as based on its value. Thus, it will affect the municipal taxes (IBI and capital gains, regional inheritance and transfer tax. An all-rounder.
If we examine the main irregularities types, they are by importance: new houses (original an agricultural store that it was converted into a brand new villa inclusive of swimming pool Jacuzzi etc, It is a larger fraud, but not the most numerous it will affects about 29% approximately 16,200 properties.
At the head of 'ranking' are the extensions and renovations (adding a plant to a house, increasing a few meters the bedroom onto the backyard or to create a new garage) 37% of cases. Another 24% respond to reform and change of use (rehab of an old house or the closing of a terrace to add another room) and the remaining are new swimming pool construction about 8%.
Need to improve on safety in your own community? It seems that the burglary has grown in the neighbourhood where you live and you do not feel safe without surveillance measures in the building or complex where you live?
The problem arises at the time of convincing the rest of your neighbours within your own community. How to know if video surveillance has much acceptance among other fellow owners who may have certain apprehension about security cameras and the lack of privacy?
How often cameras break down? And there is the issue of who has the authority to see the recorded images.
I will try to answer those questions and show that these unfounded fears should not prevent you from having video surveillance, which incidentally I consider to be an effective and safe method of protecting against thieves or at least to be a good deterrent against intrusions and theft.
A professional security company.
The most important thing is to engage a professional security company approved by the Ministry of the Interior and registered in the Register of Security Companies. In this way it is made sure they will follow literally everything that the law specifies.
What is there be aware of?
Is privacy is guaranteed?
Well only security authorized personnel can watch the recorded images by security cameras. After one month or so all images are erased, except those which are required by the police or judicial authorities to clarify a particular crime. In addition, the orientation of the cameras must not invade any intimate and private spaces of owners, and should be located only in public areas.
Everyone will know that there is video surveillance and it is recording from the information signs which need to be installed in visible places.
It is a very effective deterrent: because thieves will think twice before attacking a house with security cameras. And if they do, they may be recognized in the recording, as long as it has a high definition quality.
This last fact is important. I recall in my own community the time we tried to identify a “witty” guy who has used the communal stairs to urinate during a Murcia Festival. When the company came to identify the person in question the camera did not have sufficient definition as to clearly identify this person. So the whole thing was a waste of time and money. We have since; change the cameras to high definition quality.
Now days there is a remote maintenance technique to fix the cameras in case they breakdown without having even to remove them away. If it breaks down the recording circuit jumps a warning in real time and the problem can be solved quickly.
The following info has been obtained from the Spanish Data Protection Agency. (AEPD).
For the installation of cameras in common areas there has to be an agreement in an Owners General Meeting. The minutes of the meeting should reflect this point clearly beforehand.
It is recommended that the agreement reflect some of the characteristics of the video surveillance system, as the number of cameras or space taken up by them.
Image Recording File.
Whenever images of people are to be recorded, it is necessary to proceed to register the file in the General Data Protection Register of the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD).
The AEPD offers on its website a model for the registration of video surveillance files.
Duty to inform.
There must be in the entrances and in various strategic places, signs to inform that the area is been video monitored. The signs must indicate clearly the identity of the installation and to whom and where to go to exercise the rights under the rules of data protection. The AEPD has a model poster which could be used. The Information could also be available from the concierge, reception, offices and notice boards or be accessible via the Internet.
Do you think so you can convince your neighbours now?
If your intention is that the video surveillance is used to control working staff, there are additional requirements that must be met, so we recommend consulting practice surveillance record number VI.
On my next article we'll look at the procedures to follow when we require installing cameras for corporate control.
To open a delicatessen shop, a hairdresser or a local real estate development office was never an easy job in Spain specially with regards to all the paperwork involved. According to the OECD, Spanish Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Spain is the second country in Europe with more bureaucratic obstacles when creating a company. In order to give impetus to the small entrepreneurs seeking a job out in the small business, a new law that accelerates the necessary formalities for the empowerment of the different municipalities has been created.
The "Decreto Ley de Medidas urgentes de liberalización del comercio y de determinados servicios" Decree Law of urgent measuresfor the liberalization of trade and services was sponsored by the Central Government, but it is applicable in all the autonomous communities. From June 2012, the opening of a new business may be done in less than 15 days.
The main asset of this Law is to shorten long deadlines that went on between the investment needed to open a business and its effective opening. So far, this implied a significant financial burden for any new project, which had to pay rent or a mortgage, financial investment costs, and the impossibility to start the activity until the end of a long bureaucratic process. This situation, in some cases, even gave the fret with the unborn company.
The measure is valid for retail trades, small craft, textile and footwear industry, plus some services activities.
The new standard means to move from a system of licensing "a priori", to another control "a posteriori". This means that the municipal inspection it is not carried out before the premises is opened but afterwards. I mean the inspection which control hygiene conditions, fire exits structural security, etc. is carried out while the trade is opened to the public. The measure seeks to reduce the opening time of a business, from 18 to 6 months.
Before this measure came into force on June of last year, to open a trade needed two licenses, one building license and another activity license "licencia de construcción y licencia de apertura" and obviously to make matter more complicated each municipality applied and processed these licences with great differences with regard to deadlines, technical criteria and other requirements.
How does it work now?
The application procedure for municipal licenses is replaced by a "responsible declaration" made by the responsible person of the business prior to the opening of the activity.
The owner or applicant manifests explicitly that the he or she is aware of all the Town Hall requirements for its particular business, before the procedure is commenced.
If required by the type of activity, it may be compulsory to present a technical project signed by an architect.
If the correspondent tax is paid, you are ready to inaugurate your new business, only subject to a subsequent inspection by the Town Hall technicians.
To what business does this law applies to?
The measure does not have universal character and is aimed specifically at those SMEs trades and those which dimensions do not exceed 300 square meters. It is valid for new trades and changes in ownership of commercial activities and services procedures.
The "express license" includes, among others business: greengrocers, butcheries, poultry, charcuterie, fish, bakery, pastry, ice cream, shops candies, wine shops, food supermarkets; home furnishing; furniture; electronic devices; textile making; hardware; building materials and sanitation; herbalist and pharmacy; Perfumery; drugstore; DIY; sales of motor vehicles; optics; orthopaedics; musical instruments; antiques; library store; stationery; toys; jewellery and gardening.
It also includes the small craft industry, such as footwear and textiles. And the services sector, affected by the new licensing are: travel agencies; clothes and clothes repair shops; shoe repair; real estate promotional activities; hairdressers, beauty centres; picture framing and photocopying services among others.
If you are going to carry out an important transaction in Spain, it is recommended that you do it in front of a notary. The notary is one of the important figures in Spanish culture. Notaries continue to enjoy a prominent position in Spanish society not to mention a privileged income flow guaranteed by law.
Essentially, notaries are public officials who play a neutral role in drafting and witnessing all types of important business deal in Spain. Their job is to ensure that both parties within an
agreement understand the terms of the contract, they make sure that the terms of the contract do not contravene any Spanish laws, and ensure that the appropriate taxes generated by the
transaction are paid.
Is it necessary to have your deeds witnessed by a notary?
When you buy a property in the UK you exchange contracts, pay the vendor, get the keys and the property is yours, after which you are free to register your title in the land register. The big difference in Spain is that you can’t inscribe your title in the "registro de la Propiedad" property register unless a Spanish notary witnesses the deeds of sale. Under Spanish law a notary’s signature is required to present the private contract in the land register, so to make it clear "no notary signature.... no inscription in the property registers".
Next question we may ask ourselves is: is inscription of the deeds in the land register really necessary? In theory no, no one will force you to do so as a private contract between buyer and seller is fully binding on both parties. In fact some Spaniards, especially in rural areas, own property that is not inscribed in the register, thus saving on the hassle and expense of notary fees, registry fees and taxes of inscription etc. Strangely there is much more property inscribed in the property register than exists in all of Spain, the reason for that is that nobody declares any building that has collapse or have turn into a ruin.
For Expat buyers, however, it is crucial to inscribe their title in the property register, as it is the only truly secure form of property ownership in Spain. The first person to inscribe title to a property gets to keep it independent of any other private contract that may be around, which is a good reason for you to do so. There are other advantages too, for instance protection from the vendor’s creditors and the ability to take out a mortgage against your property. So all buyers need to complete their purchase in the presence of a notary if they are to enjoy the security of inscription in the property register.
Sign now or later?
It depends upon whether you are buying a resale property that already exists, or a new property from a developer that is under construction or off-plan.
When buying a resale property you can sign the deeds before notary at the first convenient time for you and the vendor. This should be between 1 and 3 months after signing a private contract. Be careful when buying resale properties from foreign vendors as there may be is a risk that they will take your deposit and leave the country, after which the mortgage lender will sell the property to pay off the mortgage and you may be left with nothing. When the vendor is a foreigner with a mortgage you should avoid private contracts and sign the public deeds before notary as soon as possible.
When buying a newly built property from a developer you can sign the escritura and make the final payment once the property has been certified as duly completed by the architect. Unless you have agreed to sign deeds for a property under construction, you are not obliged to sign the escritura until the developer can produce the final certificate "certificado de final de obras" signed by the architect to be able to obtain the "Licencia de Primera Ocupación" First Occupation Certificate" from the local Town Hall. (See other article about in this web about the importance of the First Occupation Certificate.
Preparing for signing.
One important piece of advice; you should only sign the deeds once your lawyer has carried out all the legal checks, on the vendor’s title, debts and architects certificate, etc.
You also need to agree a payment method with the vendor before you turn up at the notary. Bank-guaranteed cheques issued by a branch in Spain are the preferred method, though it should also be possible to transfer funds to the notary’s escrow account. Banker’s draughts from banks outside of Spain are likely to be rejected. To avoid a crisis in the notary’s office just make sure the vendor is aware of your proposed payment method, an only then get all your funds in place.
Also make sure you have the necessary documents with you when you go to the signing. In most cases you only need your passport although the NIE is requested by most notaries now days, you should always have your lawyer clarify what the notary requires before you attend.
Though it is always best to attend the signing in person you can also have someone sign on your behalf by granting them a power of attorney. The easiest way to grant power of attorney is to sign one before a notary in Spain, though at greater expense one can also be arranged through the Spanish consulates in the UK or through a British notary public and Hague Apostille. Everyone involved in the transaction all the vendors, buyers, and mortgage lenders have to be present in person or represented by powers of attorney at the signing of the deeds.
What is the protocol at the notary's office?
Upon arrival you are shown into an office with all the parties involved to wait for the Notary. You may pass an uncomfortable half hour or more while the staffs prepare de deeds with the vendor, who you may also be meeting for the first time. The Notary who always emanates importance will then breeze into the office, take a seat at the head of the table and start the proceedings.
The notary will confirm the identity and other personal details of all the buyers and sellers present, and then read the deeds out loud. Some notary’s like to show off their English by giving a partial translation, though most will just read them out in Spanish. Whatever the case you need to be sure the deeds are correct before you sign them, which means having a translator present or relying on your lawyer. Some notaries will refuse to sign the deeds unless a foreign buyer has a lawyer or translator present.
The notary will also make certain legal checks, though these vary by autonomous region. As a minimum they should have request a property registry filing just before the signing to confirm the vendor’s title, and that the property is free of any (unexpected) encumbrances. This leads some estate agents to claim that buyers are perfectly well protected by the Notary and don’t need a lawyer. This is not so. In reality the Notary gives you little protection so you must be accompanied by an experienced and qualified professional when signing the deeds.
If nobody objects to the content of the deeds the notary will pass them around for signing by all parties, and confirm the payment of any outstanding amounts by the buyer before the keys are handed over. This is when you produce payments such as bank drafts for any outstanding amounts on the declared price (the price stated in the deeds less any deposits or down payments already paid). But now comes a very important point of etiquette: if you have agreed to pay a part of the price under the table, which you are strongly advised not to do, then never produce this cash in the presence of the Notary. Always wait until the deeds have been signed and the Notary has left the room before you bring out the envelope stuffed with cash. The vendor will then count out the cash in front of you.
After signing the deeds
After signing the deeds the property is all yours, though the taxes still need to be paid and your title inscribed in the property register.
You will be given a copy"copia simple" of the deeds to take away after the signing. Each copy costs around 30 Euros so you should decide how many copies you want in advance. You can use the copia simple to do most things, such as set up utility contracts and pay taxes. A few days later your lawyer will be able to collect the original deeds signed by the notary (copia autorizada), which are needed to inscribe your title in the property register. In the meantime the notary should have faxed notification of your purchase to the property registry immediately after the sale, thus blocking the register for 10 days and preventing anyone else from inscribing a claim to the same property during this period.
Notary fees are set by the government according to the number of clauses in the deeds and the declared value of the property. As an approximate guide they range from 0.1% of the declared price of a property (for properties of 400,000 Euros or more) to around 0.4% (for properties of under 100,000 Euros). If you use a mortgage then you will have to pay Notary fees on the mortgage deeds as well.
Important tips on first occupation license. What on earth...is that?
Most of us have gone through this once or more times. Yes I am referring to the moment at the local notary where the deeds are signed and the property keys are handed over long last. We have a brand new property to enjoy, but alas when the services company are contacted to obtain connection to electricity, water or gas supply, someone mentions the damn words: "Licencia de Primera Ocupación" What on earth...is that?
The notarized deed for the purchase of the property only and simply implies that there has been a "declaración de obra nueva" an official description of the building where by it has been broke down into different parts and each of that part is therefore transmissible or saleable. In other words that property has been certify as a saleable merchandize to the legal world, and therefore can be purchased. This occurs on the purely legal civil and registry level.
Only legal to be sold but not without problems.
However, in addition, the property developer has other obligations with certain public authorities. As a rule, with the local town hall, obligations with regard to the building of the infrastructure around the property, as well as to repairing any damage caused in the public domain as a result of the building works which may have damaged pavements, roads, lighting, etc. Until such obligations are definitely over and done with, the town hall will not grant of the license of first occupation.
This may mean that the owner may not have access to essential supplies: water, electricity, telephone, gas, and even the owner may not register himself or the family in the local "padrón" civil register.
If the situation prolongs itself too long it could imply that, irregularly, and if the municipality allows by looking the other way, the user proceed to occupy the property with water, electricity, supply for building work only under the name of the property developer and not his. This is done more often than not unfortunately.
The problem could worsen further if the relationship embitter between town hall and the property developer. However, the fulfilment of their obligations is up to the property developer, while purchasers are third parties in relation to the administrative proceedings.
The town hall obtain from the property developer guarantees, before the building license are issued, ensuring the fulfilment of their obligations. But, sometimes, the property developer infringe so many abuses that the amount of the guarantee does not cover for the definitive repair of the damage caused, with which the situation of uncertainty could prolong in time.
In view of the above, I would provide two tips for the first home buyer:
Although the purchase has taken place before a notary this does not prevent that the property is free of other problems, as already indicated.
Therefore, be cautious, and insist that at the time of the sale, the property developer must present a copy of the license of first occupation provided by the corresponding town hall. This will prevent future trouble and I venture to declare that I personally would not buy a property without the license of first occupation, unless you enjoy running around the town hall looking for application forms, and dealing with bureaucrats.
On this theme and on the response I had the other week with a little joke about builders here is another one on Spanish bureaucrats.
How many local town hall bureaucrats does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Seven, one to supervise, one to arrange for the electricity to be shut off, one to make sure that safety and quality standards are maintained, one to monitor fulfilment with local, province, and national regulations, one to manage personnel relations, one to fill out the paperwork and one to screw the light bulb into the water faucet.
To follow my article about La LOE (La Ley de Ordenación de la Edificación). The building Bible in Spain. I pointed out that a Code of Practise, similar to the UK Building Regulations came to light on, March 29th of 2007 (commonly known as the “CTE”).
This Code of Practise endeavour to control the quality of building elements such as:
A new element has been added since then (only two weeks ago) to the CTE, and deals with Accessibility to public spaces and ease of access for handicap people. These norms came into force barely on Sunday the 12th of this current month and replace various previous norms.
Before we embark ourselves on technical details I will attempt to explain the intended aim of the legislator with the CTE as he has stated on the preamble of this law.
All building elements must be design to minimum standards.
Against the previous building regulations which had a prescriptive character i.e. architects would specify any material that he would consider would do the job, now he has to specify a material that must achieve a minimum standard specified by the CTE.
This simple fact would allow us to compare similar buildings with regards to energy efficiency, general safety, sound and thermal insulation etc, therefore coercing the building industry to be more competitive.
Energy certificates for your home, a must.
Any buildings or homes built from 1997 onwards, has to have an energy certificate, similar to those you see when you buy a fridge. You must have seen it. A certificate that has arrows of different colours marked with letters and different colours, ranging from green for the letter “A” to brown to the letter “G”, being “A” the most efficient.
Therefore, before you buy a new home in Spain you should ask for this certificate to enable you to compare your home with other dwellings. On the long term a letter A or B could save you lot of Euros in opposition to a home with a let say, letter D or E.
After the CTE, buildings in Spain are suppose to be safer with regards to the prevention of falls due to slippery floors, levels of lighting in public o common areas in block of apartments, public building etc. A minimum of lighting has to be designed for those areas. More care has to be taken when designing parking areas where a clear division between vehicles and pedestrians has to be established.
However lets concentrate on the more interesting sections.
Ventilation, 24 hours a day whether you like it or not.
To achieve a higher standard of ventilation and to comply with CTE, continuous ventilation has to be provided in our homes. Extractions of air have to be carried out from vertical ducts in bathrooms and kitchens. Continuous inlet of fresh air has to be allowed to get into bedrooms and living rooms so as to achieve a flow of air from these spaces through halls, corridor etc to kitchen and bathrooms, twenty four hours a day. The standard vertical duct popularly known in Spain as “Shunt” which works as a standard chimney is no longer allowed. From now on, there should be an electrical extractor continuously active or instead a hybrid system which works as follow, air is sucked from a chimney top as before. When air blows and a specific amount of cubic metres of air is removed outside, all is well, but if the air suction power falls below the level specified, then the electrical extractor must switch itself on automatically.
One of the contradicting aspect of the CTE to my mind, is this obsession with air ventilation and then being so strict with energy saving. I personally pointed this out to a professor who worked actively on the creation of part of the CTE. He explained that cancer have increased dramatically through the developed countries in the past ten years; specialists think that to a large extend, this is due to the increased quantities of carcinogenic products such as detergents, plastics and other harmful products used at home, ventilation is thought to be one of the most effective way of contra reacting their harmful effects.
Better thermal insulation.
To calculate the thermal insulation required in any building we must specified what we think is required. Then this proposed insulation, is introduced in a computer programme provided freely by the Ministry of Housing. This software only compares the building that we design, with a hypothetical building similar to our one but with the correct type of insulation. If our building does not have sufficient thermal insulation the programme does not issue an energy certificate which is required by the CTE and of course by the Local Authorities.
Up to 70% of your hot water must be heated up in thermal solar panels.
The CTE also limits the amount of conventional energies that can be used in different types of buildings. On the Costa for example, it is obligatory that up to 70% of your hot water must come from thermal solar panels. 60% if you main energy source is one other than electricity. The requirement comes down to the figure of 30% if your home is situated in north Spain. We must not forget that there are zones in Spain that have a higher rain index than many parts of England.
So, be prepared to see plenty of solar panels on roofs from now on. (Incidentally we architect better roll up our sleeves and find solutions to this very unsightly problem before our homes start looking like factory buildings).
Other types of buildings which are not residential i.e. Hypermarkets, Hotels etc have to install photovoltaic panels so to produce a percentage of the electricity that they are consuming as well as the thermal panels. This added requirement will depend on of the size of building (for Hypermarkets from 5.000m2, hotels from 100 sleeping units etc)
It is obvious that all these new obligations emanating from the CTE would mean better-quality, more secure and less expensive buildings to maintain. However there is a price to pay for all these of course. According to the Spanish Ministry of Housing the increase cost on an average home should be from 1% to 3% of the total cost of construction. I personally think it is double that figure, especially when we take into account the improvements require to comply the sound insulation section of CTE.
It is well known by all, that the construction industry is important within the Spanish economy and yet if I ask any British person on the Costa; about the LOE? probably would respond; La LOE what? However, I would not blame him, because if we perform the same exercise with any Spanish fellow almost certainly would get the same result.
Although “La ley de Ordenación de la Edificación” (LOE from now on) Law 38/1999 of November 5th , 1999 that came into force on May 6th , 2000, has gone unnoticed by the layman, this act has had the greatest repercussion on the Spanish construction industry than any other legislation in the history of Spain.
Trying to trace a British act that has had a similar impact on the life of citizens; it comes to my mind the Clean Air Act of 1952. The Act was an important milestone in the UK's legal framework to protect the environment and the health of the British population.
To commence, we must make clear what the LOE does not do.
It does not solve the property development bubble or any town planning problems such as illegal housing being built without planning permission, sometimes due to the negligence of local authorities.
But it does attempt to stop the indiscriminate abuse of the past, when property developers companies were created under an endless demand for more houses on the coast. Companies created with the sole intention of making a single promotion and then disappear, leaving totally helpless buyers, who had no body to claim to for deficiencies and faulty installations of their homes.
It is interesting that when the OCU (Organization for Consumers and Users) made public the statistics for 2007.
They had 14.552 grievances about Mobile telephones, 12.448 complaints were made on defective houses. Disputes with Tax authorities reached 12.196. Financial institutions such as banks, saving banks etc had 11.352 complaints. 10. 804 grievances due to break downs of ordinary wired telephone lines. Construction deficiencies were the second major cause suffered by consumers in Spain.
So what can the LOE do for us?
First, this law regulates the building process by establishing basic requirements to be met by new buildings, covering aspects as building usage and security. It also clearly specifies the responsibilities of all participants (in the LOE called "agents") in the construction process. From the property developer to the end user, who also has obligations as we shall see later.
The LOE classifies buildings failures in three groups, and provides a warranty period during which, the end user can claim responsibility to have repaired the damage or receive financial compensation. And most important, the agents involved in the building process are liable directly to the end user, unless any of them can demonstrate that he was not involved in the events that produced the damage.
Who are these agents?
A) The property developer.
B) The designer. (Could be an architect, engineer etc.) The LOE specifies which professional can design which buildings. Engineers can only design industrial buildings
C) The contractor.
D) The site supervisor (normally an architect).
E) The clerk of works. (In Spain, the “aparejador” a hybrid between a clerk of works and a quantity surveyor)
F) The laboratories for building’s quality control.
G) The manufacturer of building products.
H) The owners and/or users of the finished buildings
I'm sure some readers are wondering about the responsibilities that an owner may have in the building process. The answer is none. But he has a responsibility to preserve and maintain the building. Obviously for an owner to fulfil this new responsibility he should receive from the property developer together with his (escrituras) deeds "El libro del edificio." The building book.
This manual must include:
All agents are responsible for any defects during the following periods of time.
1) Ten years for all structural elements.
2) Three years for all construction elements that may affect, energy saving, noise insulation, user´s health but exclude the finishes.
3) One year for finishes.
It is mandatory that the property developer has an indemnity insurance to cover all structural defects as stated in paragraph 1). Paragraphs 2) and 3) are still awaiting new legislation to regulate them.
The amounts insured are to be equivalent at least to the final cost of the work including professional fees.
Notaries and property registrars are the actual regulator of this law by not allowing any property deeds to be issued or registered if it had not previously complied with the LOE.
To implement this LOE, on March 29th of 2007 came to light El Código Técnico de la Edificación the Technical Building Code (commonly known as the “CTE” ) to some extent similar to the UK Building Regulations, which endeavour to control the quality of building elements such as:
During this time of crisis I have been asked more than once, about the minimum sizes and number of rooms that a new intended house should have, to obtain the regulatory building licence.
In one occasion a client with airs of a hermit and somewhat misanthrope, was looking for a large plot of land roughly 25.000 m2 as far away as possible from any town where he envisage to build a small, a very small house, composed of one bedroom with a small kitchenette built in the bedroom and a toilet next to the bedroom with access from outside.
The gentlemen asked me if I could manage obtaining the prescriptive building licence and obtain a few estimates from local builders. Evidently I had to inform him that a house of that characteristics would not comply with the minimum requirements of an old Spanish building regulation from the year 1944, called; “Condiciones Higiénicas Mínimas que han de reunir las Viviendas” Minimum hygienic conditions to be met by properties.
This regulation which is still valid and in use, even though other local regulations has improved and changed it somewhat, however in some localities it is accepted as the minimum requirements to be complied with, so that a house could be classified as such.
I will extract some significant articles so that we can obtain an idea as to the requirements required to design a minimum house.
In its firs article it states:
1 .- A family dwelling shall consist of at least of a kitchen, a dining room/living room, a bedroom with space for two beds and a toilet, having to always be taken into account the relationship between the capacity of the house and the number and sex of its inhabitants.
It follows with its second article:
2 .- All rooms shall be independent from each other so that no room shall be used as a way to get to a bedroom or to the W.C.
In this article it is implied that no room shall be used as a passageway to go another room including the W.C. Please notice that by the W.C. we interpret the “bathroom”.
With regards to ventilation all bedroom shall have an opening to outside, and the opening shall be an eighth of the room floor area.
It also allows to vent bathroom through chimneys when because of the layout of the house it is impossible to have direct access outside though a normal window.
This have been used widely in Spain i.e. to vent the bathroom through a “Shunt” or a vertical conduct until year 2007 when the vent must have mechanical extraction or hybrid natural and mechanical extraction.
With regards to internal patios used to ventilate rooms the minimum size of this patios should be 3m by 3 m and preferably these internal patios should have a size capable to inscribe a circle with a diameter of 1/6 the height of the building, being the minimum accepted the 9m2 described above.
In its 6th article it describes the sizes of the different rooms and these minimum sizes are still widely used in most regions of Spain.
6 .- The minimum dimensions of the various rooms are as follows:
Single-bed bedrooms shall have an area of 6 m² and have a minimum volume of 15 m³. Double bedroom shall have 10 m² of area and a minimum volume of 25 m³. Living rooms shall have a 10 m². Kitchen will have 5 m² of area. Toilet shall have a minimum area of 1.50 m². If the kitchen and living room is a single piece, then it will have a minimum size of 14 m². The minimum width of the hallway will be 0.80 m except for the entry into the house where the width will increase to one meter. The height of all rooms, from the floor finish to the ceiling, shall not be less than 2.50 m in urban areas, can go down to 2.20 m in isolated houses in rural areas. The ground floors of apartment houses shall be insulated by an air or an impermeable layer that protects it from the soil moisture.
As we can see here some of these sizes are in some aspects the sizes found in some modern apartments so beware of the minimum sizes of the different rooms. I have it seen anywhere in Spain where this 2.2m high is allowed at the present time even in rural areas. So no rooms are allowed in Spain where the average height is less than 2.5m with the exception of rooms used for installations and services.
So although you may decide to live a very Spartan life there are minimums requirements to be complied with so that you can call a house a house. In case you want living accommodation more austere than that you can always live in camping tent!!
I am sure that those of you who read my column regularly have read my frequent complains on Spanish legislations. Not only the manner in which it is written, convoluted and full of long winded phrases that could be said in a simple and straight forward way, but it seems that the legislator tries his best to enmesh a million of pages of rules and regulations so that it is as difficult as possible to make head or tail of it.
Another issue that makes Spain different is that this country is composed of 17 autonomous regions and each has the capacity to legislate independently of the rest, so we have 17 different regulations for each rule within the construction industry so let’s take for instance a simple regulation which governs the access for handicapped. Apart from the national legislation there are the 17 different Community legislations so for example in Orihuela Costa which is under the Valencia Community has its own regulation different to that of Murcia Region. So a ramp for the disable designed in Orihuela Costa is different to one designed in San Javier. As an architect I have to compare the National legislation with that of the Valencia Community (in this case) and apply whichever is more restrictive, which make you think what could be the possible differences of a person in a wheel chair from Orihuela Costa compared with his counterpart in San Javier.
Well, there is always a person somewhere in the world doing things that you never thought of doing; in this case someone in Spain has been counting page by page the total number which has been legislated last year in Spain and this has been published in an article by the CEOE, The Confederation of Business Organizations in Spain which is a private non-profit organization whose primary purpose is the protection and representation of business before the government and society in general.
The CEOE criticizes the multiplicity of rules, which hinder economic growth and distort the market in Spain. To be updated on all rules, regulations and legal notices, an employee from a company (poor fellow) had to read last year 169,874 pages of the Official Gazette (BOE) and 813,256 pages of official bulletins of the autonomous communities, according to a report highlights by the CEOE, criticizing this legal profusion because, in many cases, is due to duplication, unnecessary or outdated standards requirements.
Last year 706 new rules of different ranks were approved nationwide. Between 1970 and 2014 a total of 40,046 national standards have been adopted in Spain. To region, with more pages published its the official bulletin from Madrid, with 94,159 pages, and the least, the Basque Country, with 5,545. However, the amount collected by CEOE Basque bulletins from the provincial councils were not included, who are autonomous in tax matters among others.
This employer's organization insists that "less regulation is better regulation" and that companies could save in Spain 1,600 million Euros in administrative burdens. For example, in Galicia in 2011 passed a decree requiring the wineries to carry 14 registration books written manually in indelible ink. "If we could do this in computerized form, 1,163,000 Euros could be saved.
Brussels recommended in 2008 to all governments to reduce by 25% administrative burdens. The Executive Zapatero did it in 30% and the Rajoy Government has continued in that line passing the Law of Unity of the Market in 2013. Still, there remains much room for other reductions. The European Commission estimated in 2007 that the cost of administrative burdens in Spain reached 4.6% of GDP (46,000 million Euros).
The OECD produces every five years, an indicator on the regulation on the market of products, which is recognised as an indicator barrier to private initiative arising from all these regulations. In this comparative, Spain has a more restrictive legislation than Italy, UK, Germany or France at least on paper.
As a member of the European Union, to national and regional legislation we have to also add the 22,331 Community directives and regulations, with agriculture, foreign affairs and environmental protection, consumer and health areas on top which adds another burden to this legislation madness.
According to CEOE, the Spanish legislative framework is convoluted and complex, leads to a distorted market and create a high level of administrative burdens for most businesses. All these legislations have a direct impact on economic growth because companies' devote their time and efforts to administrative tasks that involve a cost, in some cases unjustified ". That is why Spain is different!!