Building Refurbishments in Valencia
The subject of Building Licences has always been a thorny issue in Spain, partly because it is widely recognised that a large portion of building and refurbishment projects have traditionally been carried out without the correct legal authorisations. Perhaps foreign nationals can be forgiven for flouting the rules when so many locals choose to do so, but an increasing number are choosing to follow the letter of the law and obtain the correct permissions for refurbishment or alteration projects to their properties. But what does the law say?
The law governing all building works and hence refurbishment projects in residential property is covered by a new law that was introduced in the Comunidad Valenciana in 2014 – Ley de Ordenación del Territorio, Urbanismo y Paisaje (LOTUP). The LOTUP has been long awaited in Valencia, because it has been conceived in an attempt to simply and unify the many different laws governing development and construction in the region; a tall order indeed given the infamous reputation in the foreign press for ‘urbanistic abuse’ in the region of Valencia.
LOTUP has made significant changes in many areas of the law, and there have also been some changes to the legal permissions that are required for refurbishment or alteration works in residential property. Essentially there are two alternatives – either a formal Building Licence or a Declaración Responsable.
In addition to any refurbishment in a listed building, whether protected, catalogued or of Cultural Interest (BIC), the following building works are also subject to a formal Building Licence:
- New building works or installation of services.
- Works to extend an existing building or services installation.
- Alteration or refurbishment works that affect the structure of buildings, irrespective of the existing use.
- The demolition of buildings or structures.
- The change of use of buildings or oversailing existing buildings.
- The construction of walls and fences – in those cases (or under the aesthetic conditions) required by the regulations in harmony with the environment.
- The execution of works or services that affect the subsoil.
- The opening of roads, as well as the modification or paving of roads.
- The installation of prefabricated houses, fixed caravans, greenhouses, and similar provisional or permanent installations.
- The construction of dams, reservoirs, works of defence and correction of public channels, public or private roads and, in general, any type of works or uses that affects the configuration of the land.
- Cutting or removing trees which constitute tree mass, forested space, grove or park, with the exception of those authorized in the rural environment by the competent bodies in matters agricultural or forestry and logging.
The following building works are subject to a Declaración Responsable:
- The installation of wiring (electrical, telephone or similar) and the placement of antennas or communication devices of any kind and the repair of pipes in the basement, only in urban land and provided that it does not affect the public domain.
- The works of modification or refurbishment that affect the structure or the exterior/interior appearance of buildings and facilities of all kinds, irrespective of use, that does not involve expansion/extension works.
- Refurbishment works that do not involve structural alterations to the building, nor affect listed elements or elements that are in the process of becoming listed as well as maintenance of buildings that do not require the erection of scaffolding in the public highway.
- The first occupation of the buildings and facilities, following the completion of construction, as laid down by legislation governing the management and quality of the building, as well as the second and following acts of occupation of property.
So what are the principal differences between the two alternatives in relation to refurbishment projects in residential property? In summary, any works that involve the demolition of a property or the extension of the property in terms of constructed area or the construction of additional floors requires a formal Building Licence. Most other works that do not come under these headings can be carried out under a Declaración Responsable – this now includes structural alteration works as long as the works do not extend the existing property or add an additional floor. This is a fundamental difference to the old laws in Valencia (Comunidad Valenciana) whereby any works comprising structural alterations were subject to a formal building licence and approval from the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).
The second key difference between the two alternatives relates to approvals. Following the application for a formal Building Licence it could take up to two months to receive the first response from the Ayuntamiento; to receive the building permit or to receive a request for clarifications from the technical administration in order to approve the works licence. In the case of the latter, the initial two months could easily be extended by several months. Under the Declaración Responsable, the Promotor (or developer) is authorised to commence works immediately once the formal documentation has been formally presented in the Ayuntamiento; the consultants and developer named in the application are responsible for ensuring that the works comply with the applicable laws and regulations (regional and local), and are therefore authorized to start the works immediately.
So what documentation is required in support of a Declaración Responsable?
- Proof of the identity of the promoter (developer) and the rest of the project consultants and agents.
- A written and graphic description of the project performance and its physical location, as well as the design project signed by a qualified technician (as required by the nature of the work), with a concise report certifying compliance with enforceable regulations.
- Additional documentation required by environmental legislation, where appropriate.
- An indication of the planned commencement of works and measures related to the evacuation of debris and use of the public highway.
It remains to be seen how the new system works in the coming months and years. What does not change is the simple advice for owners to prepare properly for a refurbishment project, not only in terms of the legal authorisation (whether under a formal Building Licence or a Declaración Responsible) but also in terms of negotiations with building contractors. Clearly it is fundamental to agree the scope and specification prior to commencement of the works and to manage the costs of the project, which can be difficult with refurbishment projects.
For many foreign clients, refurbishment works of their property are often carried out in their absence, which can complicate considerably the coordination of the works, particularly when problems arise. Some are now choosing to use a Project Manager or Project Coordinator to act on their behalf and to assist with these tasks. To some this will appear to be an additional and unnecessary cost – to others this is the sensible and economical way to retain full control of the project in their absence, particularly if there are language or communication difficulties with the builder and/or the professional team.