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Construction on rural land in Andalucia limitedly allowed for single-family homes

CONSTRUCTION ON RURAL LAND ANDALUCIA
Construction on rural land Andalucia: when are you allowed to build?

In December 2021, the Andalusian Parliament passed the new ´Land Law´ (Ley del Suelo) in Andalusia, commonly called LISTA, for the construction on rural land. One of the most important new features of this law is that under certain circumstances it allows for building permits to be issued for detached single-family homes in the countryside. This is big news for rural property owners as until now building in the countryside was not permitted and all buildings less than at least 6 years old could be sanctioned.

What is the implementation status of this new law for construction and renovation on rural land?

Following the approval of this new law, the Regional Government of Andalusia is working on regulations to implement it, with these being very important for the new law to start being applied. Currently, these regulations are in draft form pending approval and therefore they are still subject to change.

We’re also going to explain -in the last paragraph- the most important aspects of these draft regulations and the new land law, concerning plots on rural land and the possibility to obtain a building permit for detached homes. Here we´ll cover the new aspects affecting homes in the system of Declaration Assimilated out of Ordination, (DAFO/SAFO) as, for the first time, larger refurbishment works will also be allowed on these.

Was it allowed to build on rural land in the past?

The previous law in Andalusia -called LOUA and adopted in 2003- did not allow for the construction of homes for residential purposes on undevelopable/rustic land, the exception being the possibility to build homes related to agricultural, livestock or forestry operations.

However, despite this ban, many homes were built without a building permit, with incorrect permits or with permits later declared void/invalid. In the province of Málaga, in areas such as La Axarquía, the Guadalhorce Valley, the Mijas Sierra or the Ronda area, hundreds of thousands of rural homes were built due to strong demand from foreign buyers from Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc.

One of the reasons for this large demand for rural properties in the countryside of Andalucia is also that they were allowed to be inscribed in the Property Registry (Registro de la Propiedad), due to the time elapse and the neglect of the administration to act against these properties. This registration doesn´t make them legal but it does give them a better administrative status which -in combination with lower market prices – makes these homes more attractive to potential buyers.

What will be the future requirements to build on a rural plot?

  1. The plot may not be subject to any type of special protection, i.e. it must be regular rural land.
  2. The building must have a distance of at least 25 metres from the border of the plot.
  3. Also, the land must have a minimal surface which we explain in the next paragraph.
  4. There must be a minimum distance of 200 metres from other buildings used for residential purposes.

a. What is the minimum surface area for plots to obtain a permit for construction on rural land?

It will be possible to build on legally segregated plots, which may in no case be smaller than 2.5 hectares (25,000 m2) per property. In forest land, the minimum surface area must be 5 hectares. However, the regulations provide for the possibility of amending this minimum surface area through subregional planning regulations. This amendment must be based on the need to fight against the depopulation of rural areas, the promotion of rural development or the green and circular economy. It is certain that this minimum plot area to obtain a building permit will be amended in many municipalities in the medium term.

b. How many square metres am I allowed to build?

The maximum building area cannot exceed 1% of the rural plot or 0.5% in forestall area.  However, it is possible for the general urban planning instrument of the municipality to allow constructions and installations that are additional to the home, provided that their total surface area does not exceed that of the home itself.

c. What is the maximum height allowed for construction on rural land?

The maximum height allowed for these homes in rural land is 7 metres.

d. No approval to build if an urban settlement is being formed

An urban settlement, ´asentamiento urbanístico´, is defined as the formation or existence of a group of buildings in a relatively small land area, which would require collective infrastructure or services unsuitable for rural land. The new land law and its regulations prohibit the formation of new urban settlements in rural land and, therefore, do not allow for issuing building permits for homes likely to form a settelement.

The law provides many definitions of what can be interpreted as an urban settlement, some of these being somewhat ambiguous and subject to interpretation with the passage of time. For instance, one of the clearest criteria that make it impossible to provide a permit for a home on rural land is the existence of another 6 buildings within a radius of 200 metres. (These 6 buildings would not include outbuildings in plots within that radius.)

What tax will be due from building in rural land in Andalusia?

The new law has established a compensation provision payable to allow constructions in rural land equivalent to 15% of the material execution budget for detached single-family homes. It is payable upon the building permit being granted to the owner or developer, whether an individual or a company. The regulations provide the possibility for each City Hall to reduce this amount through a municipal ordinance.

Need for prior authorisation to obtain the permit

It is mandatory to request prior authorisation from City Hall, to confirm that it is possible to obtain a building permit on the rustic plot. This prior authorisation procedure must include certain technical and legal documentation about the plot, as well as about the building intended to be built.

One of the most important points of this authorisation is notifying the cadastral and registry holders of neighbouring plots. The neighbouring holders may object to the building, claiming that it would prevent the performance or implementation of regular operations in their plots. This refers to livestock, forestry or agricultural operations since the construction of a home on rural land is considered exceptional.

Approval Town Hall in case of sale

If a period of 6 months has elapsed from the moment that the application was filed and the City Hall has not replied, it will be interpreted as denied. In case the City Hall grants prior authorisation, the owner or developer will have a period of one year to apply for a building permit. Otherwise, prior authorisation must be obtained again. This prior authorisation will allow owners of a plot seeking to sell it with a building permit to carry out this procedure and, once the City Hall approves it, the plot can be sold to a buyer with the guarantee that they will be able to build on it.

Ability to refurbish/renovate homes considered Assimilated out of Ordination (DAFO/SAFO)

Construction on rural land and the certificate for Assimilated out of Ordination (DAFO/SAFO)
Construction on rural land and the certificate for Assimilated out of Ordination (DAFO/SAFO)

The new land law has introduced a significant amendment regarding homes with the status of Assimilated out of Ordination (DAFO/SAFO). The new law allows for these homes to be refurbished and for their structures to be adapted. Previously, these homes were only allowed to engage in minimum maintenance and preservation works strictly necessary to guarantee habitability, health, safety and accessibility. The possibility of carrying out improvements and refurbishments in these rural homes legally opens the door to many owners who have bought a home in the countryside, who have not dared to execute these works to date or who have done so and assumed the risks of sanctions by the Town Hall.

In our daily work as lawyers, providing legal advice during the conveyancing process of rural homes, we see that most buyers wish to carry out refurbishment and improvement works and they will now be able to do so legally with a municipal permit. It is very important to note that, to obtain a refurbishment permit for homes on rural land, these must have a DAFO/SAFO resolution or this procedure should be underway. Without the recognition of Assimilated out of Ordination, it is not possible to obtain any permits for a rural property, either for refurbishment or preservation of the property.

In my opinion, since the type of work that may be carried out in an existing rural home has been extended, having a DAFO/SAFO resolution for this property may be more appealing, as it will enable owners to maintain and improve their homes legally.

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors (Torrox, Malaga)

 

MORTGAGES IN SPAIN TO BUY PROPERTY

Mortgages in Spain to buy property
Mortgages in Spain to buy property

Fixed rate, variable rate interest & Euribor

If you want to buy a property with a Spanish mortgage you should know that the standard in Spain is the variable interest. The Euro Interbank Offered Rate, also called Euribor, is the reference rate for variable-rate mortgages and is currently at very low levels. Most mortgages in Spain are established according to the Euribor plus the interest rate offered by the bank.

Some banks offer fixed-rate mortgages but the number of fixed-rate mortgages obtained in Spain is very low compared to that of variable-rate mortgages.


A mortgage in Spain or another country?

If you are non-tax resident in Spain and you are thinking of getting a mortgage to buy a home in Spain, it is very likely that a bank in your tax-residence country can offer you a better interest rate than a Spanish bank. Therefore, you should try to find out which banks in your country give mortgages in Spain.


Ways to reduce the interest rate 

In Spanish mortgages with variable-interest usually offer a series of extra products are offered that may reduce the interest rate of your mortgage loan. Each of these financial products / conditions can reduce the interest rate between 0,25% – 0,50%, with a maximum of non residents of 0,75% en 1,00%.

Some of these products / conditions are:

  • Setting up a direct credit of your salary or pension
  • Keeping a minimum monthly balance in the account linked to the mortgage
  • Signing up online banking or a virtual mailbox
  • Direct debits of service companies (water, electricity, taxes, etc.)
  • Having a debit/credit card
  • Having a pension plan with a minimal yearly contribution
  • Taking a life insurance and a house insurance / contents insurance


Starting the procedure with the bank

If you already know the bank where you want to apply for your mortgage, we suggest that you apply for the financial approval of the mortgage.

At this stage you will provide the bank with a complete list of your income and loans as well as your employment status and the amount of the mortgage loan you need. The bank will enter all these details into the system and tell you if they would approve the mortgage at your income level.

Through this, you can save time and money since you can find out, right from the start, that the bank will not give you a mortgage and it will not be necessary for you to provide all the financial documentation at the beginning. Besides from this it´s not necessary yet to pay the taxation of the property by the bank. This documentation for the bank, by the way, needs to  include an extract (´nota simple´) of the Land Book Registry, the Registro de la Propiedad, of the property you are interested in buying. If the bank analyses your financial details and cannot grant you a mortgage, you always have the possibility to go to a different bank.


Extra costs of the Spanish mortgage

Updated information due to the sentence of the Supreme Court in October 2018 as well as the change in the Spanish law based on which the banks pay most of the initial costs of the mortgage. 

  • Legal expenses:

These are usually between 3% – 4% of the amount of the mortgage, but are since October 2018 paid for by the banks (and they can be claimed back for mortgages signed since October 2014). They refer to taxes, the notary´s invoice (the Mortgage Deeds are different from the Title Deeds and so they are charged separately), the invoice from the Land Book Registry and processing fees. These expenses are the same regardless of whether the mortgage is obtained from a Spanish or a foreign bank.

  • Solicitor fees:

Even though you can negotiate your mortgage directly with the bank, it is advisable for your solicitor to help you with this process as you will obtain professional advice. Besides of this his work with the bank will be more efficient because he knows the different conditions of the banks, the can check the Spanish general Terms & Conditions and he can negotiate on your behalf.

  • Extra bank expenses:

Opening fee (usually 0,5% – 1% of the mortgage), obliged home insurance (contents insurance) and life insurance for each mortgage account holder.

On this point, I would like to make a special mention about the life insurance policy that most banks usually require to obtain. This insurance policy is obtained for the mortgaged amount and guarantees that the bank can collect the amount due to the bank from the insurance company in the event that the account holders die.

Life insurance is an interesting product for mortgage holders but it may involve a high premium, especially if the insured people are elderly or have any health problems. This is because, in these cases, the premium will be higher as the risk that the mortgage holders die increases. It´s important to know that after the first year you can switch from insurance company to one that offers you better conditions on your life insurance.

It is also common for some banks to require you to pay a single premium for this life insurance policy, i.e., when the mortgage is granted, the bank already charges you for the total insurance premium for the entire mortgage period.

It is important for you to have a summary chart of ALL mortgage costs, so you can know the net amount of the mortgage (after deducting expenses) you will have available to pay for the property.


Legally binding mortgage offer

Once the bank confirms that your mortgage is approved, the legal document that guarantees this is the binding offer (´oferta vinculante´). This bank document functions as a contract and binds the bank to giving you the mortgage under the terms established in the document. The binding offer is usually valid for one month but it may not be valid for less than ten days.


Recommendations when buying a property with a mortgage 

Since the final approval of the mortgage by the bank will take 2 or 3 weeks. Therefore it´s wise to start the mortgage procedure as soon as possible, even if you haven´t selected a definitive property yet.

Have you already decided on the property you want to buy, but you do not yet know if you are going to obtain a mortgage? In this case you could try to negotiate with the seller that the reservation document and/or private purchase contract are ´subject to mortgage´. This clause avoids that you would lose your reservation fees and/or down payment if no bank in the end doesn´t grants you a mortgage loan. However, most (Spanish) sellers do not like to sign contracts that are subject to the mortgage so the best thing is to have everything prepared with the bank so that it takes as little as possible to receive a reply.

Also please keep in mind that not all banks are willing to grant mortgages for house in the countryside, or only for a limited percentage.


Saving money by subrogation of a mortgage

If you are a home owner with a Spanish mortgage than -after one year- you have the right to subrogate your mortgage to another band with a lower interest rate of better conditions. In this case the new bank will pay the rest of the loan plus the transfer commission (if this exists) to your current bank and you will pay your mortgage from that moment to the new bank according to the new conditions.

The subrogation cost is very low compared to the cost of signing a new mortgage. Therefore, if the interest rate that the bank offers you is lower, it is very likely for subrogation to be beneficial to you.

 

Read the extended information about this subject in our pdf-file: Mortgages in Spain to buy property for buying a house in Spain. For general information about buying a house in Andalusia you can also watch this video:

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)

LEGAL COUNSELING: “IF YOU BUY CHEAPLY, YOU PAY DEARLY”

Legal investigation by professional
Legal investigation by professional

Some months ago, a foreign prospect client, who we have come to know as “Mr. X”, came in our offices. He requested some information regarding sale procedures, legal work and our professional fees.

After the first free appointment, in all honesty he commented to us that he had contacted a professional offering a 40% cheaper fee than ours. However, he would be interested in contracting our services provided that we could offer him a discount.

At that moment, we considered which option to adopt; naturally, we wanted to win this client, but we also knew that the rural property, which he wanted to buy, required a quite complex searching process.

At the end, Mr. X was offered a “courtesy” discount in our fees, which was not close to the low price offered by the former professional. Finally, Mr. X decided to contract the other professional’s cheaper services.

Regarding the current market and low circulation of clients, some solicitors offer great discounts to stand out from competitors and then win a client. Then, considering the aforesaid, why our legal firm did not offer a higher discount to win Mr. X as a client?

The answer is obvious; because such low fees proposed by Mr. X could not pay for the time of commitment for the searching process to buy the above mentioned property in a rural land and then providing full legal certainty to the client.

Within our professional environment of legal services, you may and shall be flexible and capable for adapting to win a client, considering the current situation of financial difficulties and increase of competitors in our sector. However, you should NEVER compete with lower fees, because if the fees for your services are reduced so much, then the quality of your services becomes also poorer.

Furthermore, if we are realistic, no professional may work with the same intensity neither commit the same time when their fees are so low, because production costs and ideal profits would require much more cases which may not be properly and professionally handled, and as a result, a poorer quality counseling service may be provided.

Later on, we knew that Mr. X hired an agent’s services for the legal counseling instead of a solicitor’s. We do not know how his case finished or whether he received a good counseling service. Similarly, if I do not feel physically well or fell pain, I would contact a doctor for a diagnosis and the prescription of a solution, instead of contacting a person who is not a doctor and claims to know a lot about medicine. As a qualified general practitioner, the doctor is better trained and has a legal responsibility. As a result, the patient-client receives more security and reliability, although he or she may pay more for these services.

In all honesty, an agent will never provide the same legal service as a solicitor will, because a solicitor has been exclusively trained by and for law. Solicitors’ training is eminently juridical; this full time commitment and the responsibility of the practice of law—because of the rules and the professional ethics code and good practice; shall always result in a higher quality legal counseling and greater commitment to the client. But I do not go against agents, as I personally know some of them and I am aware of their worth. However, they are not solicitors.

In short, although we were really looking forward to winning Mr. X as a client, we could not afford to reduce our fees so much in order to avoid a poorer quality service. The fact of highlighting our professionalism and tailor-made customer service in our law firm implies a commitment of time and this commitment implies some costs that the client should pay.

 

 

Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)

 

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