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Almeria Illegal Licenses Issue

Illegal house building in Almeria, Spain


There has been much media coverage of late regarding houses that have been built illegally in Spain.

Current estimates vary but some indicate that there could be as many as 100,000 houses in Spain that have been built illegally. The many of these are built in the areas of Tenerife, Malaga, Gran Canarias and Almeria; where the highest concentrations of ex-pats reside.

This coverage has caused a lot of upset and stress to many people who don't know if their house is affected by this issue.

So what constitutes an illegally built house in Almeria, Spain?

An illegally built house can be defined as one that has been built without any licenses (or the right licenses); or has been built but doesn't meet planning regulations (either at the outset or as a result of subsequent alterations).

In some circumstances where these buildings have a negative impact on the environment this violate will violate Spanish Criminal Code. This offence has a variety of punishments ranging from fines and prohibition from building to imprisonment. Many of these offences and punishments are allocated to property developers and local government officials.

Ultimately, some of these properties which are built illegally can be issued with a demolition order, which sadly only affects the people whose house it is. The decision to demolish or not lies ultimately with the Judge, and so far they have been reluctant to instigate such sever punishments.

Why has this only just become an issue?

Like many countries, Spain is proactively trying to preserve and protect it's natural environment for tourists and future generations; which is one of the reasons behind the clamp down on illegally built properties.

To help protect the environment and control building activity, land in Spain is divided into three main categories:

  • Suelo no urbanizable o suelo rústico (land not for development) building is not allowed on this type of land under any circumstances.
  • Suelo urbanizable building is still not allowed on this type of land but owners have certain development duties.
  • Suelo urbano (urban land) this is the only category of land where building is authorised. However, it must be in accordance with the local General Plan (Plan General de Ordenacion Urbana) and what that states for the area where the property is situated.

As well as the recent appoint National Co-ordinating Prosecutor for Environment and Urban Planning, the very public arrest of several regional officials particularly in Andalucia for allegedly taking bribes in return for issuing building licenses (and the media interest surrounding this), has put a lot of pressure on the Spanish Government to clean up Spain's reputation for corruption in this area.

What actions are the local Government taking?

Although the Co-ordinating Prosecutor for the Environment and Planning is taking a strong line, the regional Governments are each taking their own approach and interpreting the law very differently.

The decisions they are taking about the legality of property, and the action that should be taken, i.e. Should a property be demolished or not, seems to be dependent upon two main factors:

  • Land designation before a property was built (see earlier list)
  • Whether or not someone currently lives in the property

What is apparent is that the local authorities seem to have agreed on thing each case should be looked at on an individual basis, as it is not possible to apply blanket rules across a region.

What should I do next if I think my house is at risk or I don't understand everything I have read?

This is a very complicated issue and is being addressed differently in each case in Spain. For some people, the above information will be new, confusing and very distressing.

This is why Irwin Mitchell recommends that advice should be sought from a solicitor/abogados who understand the property industry in Spain and has a full understanding of this particular issue.

They can look at the location of your property, the structure of your property and any documentation that you have and tell you if your property is at risk.

If they do identify a risk, you adviser can start to negotiate with the authorities on your behalf and look for a solution or a way to protect your house.

For those whose homes are to be demolished there can be avenues for compensation where a purchaser feels they have been misled when the property was sold to them. This new approach has been suggested by the Co-ordinating Prosecutor.

If you are concerned about your own property and its legal status, or have been contacted by the Authorities directly to tell you that your property is at risk, contact the team at Irwin Mitchell Abogados either by telephone on 00 34 902 150 105; or use the email enquiry form and ask one of the team to call you back.


The team will be visiting Almeria on the 23rd January 2007 to meet with local residents and to hold a free legal advice clinic. If you would like to know more about this event, please call 00 34 902 150 105 and speak to the team.