Building permissions

There are 4 principle types of Spanish building permissions relevant to houses, all of which are applied for at the local concello.

As covered in our laws & taxes section, it really is worthwhile putting some effort into forming a good relationship with the relevant official (in this case the concello architect, or even better the local mayor) as things will just go that bit more smoothly for people that they like and whose ideas and plans they approve of.
Showing enthusiasm for the locality and ideally looking to participate in the local community in some way tends to go down well.

Permission for a brand new building

In order to obtain permission to build a new house you will need a plot of land of a minimum size (the size of house you can build is related to the plot size) that is within a nucleo urbano (town) or nucleo rural (village/hamlet) and is classified as suelo urbanizable (buildable land).

For building permission to be granted the plot is normally also required to be able to connect to public mains water, sewage and electricity services.

This permission requires a project, signed by a Galician registered architect, that complies with all of the relevant planning laws and building codes.
Planning requirements are now based on the EU standard Eurocodes but also have an extra layer of Spanish/Galician/local requirements on top.
Eurocodes make a number of requirements that may compromise your ideal design, chief among them disabled access (wheelchair accessible front door, access without steps from main entrance to a bathroom dimensioned for disabled use, etc) and energy performance requirements (may limit glazing percentages).
Local requirements define size, height and also materials used for visible facades, etc..

Permission to start building works will be given by the concello’s architect, but before this is forthcoming it may be necessary to acquire additional permissions from other authorities such as the Roads Authority (if building next to a road) the Coastal Authority (if building near the coast), the Rivers Authority (near rivers or river sources), the Heritage Authority (if near buildings of historic interest).

The concello’s architect should tell you if any such extra permissions are needed, but it’s the up to you/your architect to get them and hand them in to the concello.

During the build there aren’t usually any checks that the reality matches the plans, but in order to obtain the “primera ocupacion” licence, which enables you to get services connected and start living in the house, various certificates of conformity and completion will need to be presented.

It is also an important point to note that when a new build is made on a plot adjoining a road (ie. almost all new builds) a section of the plot may have to be ceded to the Roads Authority. This particularly applies in rural areas where the existing road is less than the prescribed 8 metre width for a residential road plus street parking and pavements. You should cede the land before you start building as you may otherwise (rather unbelievably) find yourself being charged a tax of 1% of the value of the plot plus house to give a chunk of land to the Roads Authority.

Permission for the general reform of an existing building

This normally applies to old, run down properties which may even have been declared as a ruin/uninhabitable to save on taxes.

It involves much the same process as for a new build, the major advantage being that permission already exists for the existing volume of the house (including bits which officially exist but have actually fallen down) in that location.

You will still require a full architect’s project and permissions from other Authorities, but the fact that the house already exists makes these simpler.

Planning laws and building codes may also (but don’t always) make fewer requirements and allow greater flexibility for the reform of an existing building, for example in areas such as overall volume, ceiling heights and thermal performance.

There may also be no requirement to obtain an occupation licence, although that depends on the prior status of the building, and this can affect the various taxes levied on property development.

Major works permission for partial reforms of a building

For partial reform/refurbishment of a building the primary criteria for categorising it as major works are that there are either changes to the volume of the building, changes to the structural elements of the building, changes to the use of a building, and/or changes to the layout of the building (including the removal or addition of windows or doors).

Major works projects require a project from an architect or architectural technologist (which depends on the type of works) and may require certificates of completion/safety from trade professionals for electric or gas supplies and for insurance or mortgage purposes.

An improvement tax of 4% of the (declared and accepted) value must be paid before works can commence.
The value of works is typically massively under-declared in Galicia to save on this tax, but it is worth bearing in mind that the value of works (which needs to be backed up by receipts) can be deducted from the price of any future sale that may be subject to capital gains tax.

Note that if you plan to do the work yourself you will have to estimate the value of your own labour and include it in the estimated value of the works.

Minor works permission for partial reforms of a building

In theory virtually any modification to a building, for example doing some tiling in a kitchen, requires minor works permission, but in practice only reasonably significant (or publically visible) works tend to be done with permissions.
As only the most basic records of buildings (ie. size, distribution) are held in official registers if there are no problems during the works then there never will be any.

Minor works permission can be granted by the concello architect without the need to submit an architect’s project. Normally a text or basic plan description of the works and a few photos of the existing condition are adequate for obtaining permission.

As with major works, an improvement tax of 4% of the value of works (including the valuation of your own labour) must be paid prior to the works starting, and again this can be set against any future capital gains tax liability.

Additional permissions

As well as these permissions you will also need a specific permission from the Roads Authority if you require scaffolding, cranes, etc. to be placed in their zone of interest, which is normally within 5 metres of any road.
Similarly building works within the zones of interest of the Coastal Authority, Railways Authority, Rivers Authority, etc. may require specific permissions obtained directly from these authorities and shown to the local concello architect before they can grant you the requested permission.

Liability and insurance

As well as building permissions it is necessary to ensure that you have adequate liability insurance for the general public, adjacent land or buildings, and any workers on your site. Buildings insurance from your bank may provide some of this but you are likely to be personally liable for any injuries to workers who are not autonomo or working for a Spanish company (in which case they are legally obliged to have their own cover).