By Alejandro Bellapart

The Official State Bulletin published at the end of May this year the Law, Nº 2/2013, concerning Coastal Areas was published and its most important consequence – probably the reason for its promulgation – is the possibility now to extend periods of leasing out coastal terrain to third parties. Until a Coast Law of 1988 all maritime terrain and the so-called "protected zone" was property of the State; that is to say the whole of the Spanish coast was publicly owned. The protected zone is a band of terrain measuring 6 metres starting from the high water line. By the 1988 Coast Law the State could lease this maritime land and protected zone to third parties for a maximum period of 30 years, and in consequence of this concession many yacht clubs, sporting harbours, private houses, swimming pools and similar, were built. Note that the maximum concession from now is 75 years.

Additionally, already in these areas there were many private homes and businesses from the 1970s and 1980s all holding their official building permits. Those constructions that existed prior to 1988 were classed for purposes of urban planning as being "Out of Order" but not illegal. The meaning is that they could not be demolished since they enjoyed the protection of proper building permits, but were under severe restrictions insofar as the possibility of any reform, extension or renovation was concerned. Therefore up to the present, owners were allowed freely to make small repairs to their properties, but no major or structural works of any kind could be undertaken; the eventual result to be that all constructions within the leased maritime and protected areas would be either demolished or simply fall down finally of their own accord, of decrepitude.

Increasing their value

The radical consequence of the new 2013 Coast Law is the granting to those who hold leases on the coast the right to modernize completely, to consolidate, renovate and improve their properties, thereby increasing their value. Apart from that, and most importantly, they are assured that their existing lease of a concession will be honoured in full. It must be noted that the legislative body declares expressly that this new situation does now allow the area occupied by a property to be increased; nor will the renovation works augment its official valuation in the event that at some time the State needs to effect a compulsory purchase.

For permits to renew or modernize, leasehold and property owners must demonstrate that they are in possession of all requisite authorizations, and in the case of buildings situated within a 20 metre band from maritime terrain, an additional permit from the Coastal Administration is needed. This of course poses problems for a lot of properties which were illegally erected by the coast in the 1970s; further, it appears that some paperwork from that period has been misplaced in old public archives, so that owners in such a situation can have resort to their solicitor finding alternative proofs of the long-standing existence of their properties, thereby accrediting its legality at the time of construction.

Another interesting feature of our new Coast Law is that burocracy has been cut back, and instead of two separate building permits from the local Town Hall and from the Coastal Administration. A promoter may now, on his own responsibility, present to the Coastal Administration a simple declaration that the construction he envisages does not break any of the legal requisites referred to herein: very important to underline here that a discrepancy or fault in this declaration would result in the demolition of the building with no hope whatever of re-applying for a municipal building permit.

Positive new regulations

To sum up, the new regulations are a positive step to permit the renovation of properties hitherto condemned to simple maintenance repair, and undoubtedly will help to reactivate the real estate market in privileged coastal properties. It is also true however that the new Law diverges from the original spirit of that of 1988, which was that the Spanish Coast should become free of buildings; due to deficient application of that law among other things, this objective unfortunately has not been achieved.

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