Spain Explained

Improve your property, but legally

Last updated on October 28th, 2019 at 03:53 pm.

Perhaps you’ve got your eye on a bargain, or it’s just time to make some changes to your house in Spain. It’s a good time to refurbish property, just make sure that the Town Hall know what you’re doing too.

Jessica Martínez, from our Legal Department, tells us there is no doubt that you can pick up a bargain in Spain. Since the crisis of 2008, the price of many houses here have dropped dramatically and you can certainly get your money’s worth when it comes to investing in a Spanish property.

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However, just a word of caution. Virtually all home improvements must have planning permission. From building a shed in your garden to installing a swimming pool; whether you’re replacing some tiles or extending your patio. Licences are required for the work to legally go ahead.

My neighbours haven’t got one

You’re thinking of refurbishing your property and mention to Mr Smith next door. The conversation goes something like this:

You: I want to add a conservatory to the front. We’ve got lots of outside space that we hardly use at all in the summer. Who put up your conservatory for you?

Mr. Smith: We use ours a lot and it didn’t take long to build. Wasn’t too expensive either. I can recommend the builder if you like.

You: Do they get the planning permission too? Our solicitor says we need to apply for a licence.

Mr. Smith: You don’t need a licence. We haven’t got one and neither has Mrs. Brown at number 54. You don’t want to believe these solicitors. They’re only after making money for themselves.

Be warned! It may well be that Mr Smith and Mrs Brown didn’t obtain a licence for their conservatories, but they should have done. Many people go ahead with their home improvements taking the word of the local ‘expert’ that licences aren’t needed.

It is unlikely that the minute the last stone is laid a representative from the Town Hall will pop up and wag his finger at you.

Spanish Town Halls tend to work a slightly a different way and your conservatory might go unnoticed for many years. Until…

  • You come to sell your property and the sale falls through as the records don’t match the current property
  • There are problems if your inheritors would like to sell
  • You need to apply for a mortgage
  • The Town Hall does one of its checks.

It’s true that sometimes illegal building work has not been followed up. There was even a kind of amnesty that came into place after four years had passed (15 years for works done after August 2014 in Comunidad Valenciana). However, new legislation means that now, in rustic areas, there probably will be no time limit against illegal constructions.

Whenever the work was done, you can be required to apply for the correct planning permissions. If the land is not considered to be suitable for the purpose you can even be required to demolish the work done.

The builder has got it for me

You, as the owner, are responsible for applying for the licence at the Town Hall. It depends on the extent and kind of refurbishment whether you need an architect’s plan or not. For a larger construction such as a swimming pool or extension then you will be required to have this.

Be cautious again if you find yourself in a conversation such as this:

You: I’d like you to start as soon as possible, although don’t we need planning permission first?

Builder: That’s no problem. I can do that for you. We don’t have to wait.

You: But my solicitor tells me that I have to apply to the Town Hall

Builder: Look, I do works like this all the time. There’s no problem with me making a start. I know the people at the Town Hall, there’s no problem with the licences.

Of course, the majority of builders are reputable and will give you sound advice on this point. However, as in the example above, others are not and be warned if you have not had to be involved in an application. It’s likely that a licence doesn’t exist at all.

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What should I do?

If you are considering going ahead with some home improvements then you must apply for a building licence before beginning the work on your property. If the work has already been done and these conversations ring true for you then you might want to seek retrospective planning permission.

Our legal department can provide a personalised study of the possibility of obtaining the licence that you need. Whatever stage you are at in improving your property, and whatever conversations you’ve had, it’s important to speak to the experts.

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Leave a comment


Regina Boquin

30 December, 2019 10:48 pm

Thank you for your articles. They are extremely informative and useful. Would we need a permit to carry out changes in flats such as a new layout of walls, new kitchen and new bathrooms, providing we do not make changes on load bearing walls? How long does such a permit take, if necessary?

Oscar Paoli

2 January, 2020 11:48 am

Hi Regina,
Yes you would need to apply for a licence for minor works called “obra menor”. The procedure and cost will depend of each Town Hall, but once the paperwork has been presented the licence is issued in approximmately a week or so.

Should you need assistance in the process please contact us at

With kind regards,

Ábaco Advisers

gary fawcett

6 July, 2021 12:33 pm

Hello, helpful article, builders increased the size of my patio (ground floor tiled area), should I have got a licence?

Oscar Paoli

6 July, 2021 2:15 pm

Hi Gary,

Yes, you should have obtained a licence for this indeed.

With kind regards,

Ábaco Advisers