Urban or Rustic properties?

What's the difference between urban and rustic?

It is important to understand the differences in land types here in the Valencia region. There are basically 2 property or land types, both of which have varying sub types (with more specific conditions).

The first is urban land and this is for building upon and can be residential or industrial. Land must have the necessary urban classification and infrastructure to be considered urban and in the case of low-density urbanization (Villas etc…) it must have roads, pavements, street lighting, mains sewerage, mains electricity and mains drinking water.

Then there is rustic land, normally this is agricultural, but can have other uses such as keeping livestock etc…. This type of land is not for building residential property.

That said, under certain conditions it is possible to obtain permission to build a house in the countryside. One of the main requirements is that the plot size be in excess of 10,000m2, along with correct sewerage treatment. Houses meeting the requirements to have been built in the countryside account for a very, very small percentage of all of those that exist in the countryside. Nearly all houses on less than 10.000m2 of rustic land will have started their life without planning permission.

How can this be?

Spain as with other Latin countries has something called the “prescripcion” this would be akin to the statute of limitations in British terms. Basically, in Spain if the authorities take no action, nearly any infraction expires after an established time period (even criminal ones including murder). Thus, with the passing of time the administration loses the right to act against houses built without planning permission. This combined with the fact that planning permission is controlled at local level, and traditionally has not been very well funded or policed, means that there exist many properties initially built without permission which the authorities can no longer take to task and must tolerate. In the case of urban infraction in rustic land, the law at the time of writing (LOTUP 4/2014) said that the infraction expires 15 years after it took place, in the previous law (LUV 16/2005), and up to 2014, this expiry occurred after just 4 years. IMPORTANT UPDATE the modification to the LOTUP 1/2019 established that infractions committed in rustic land after January 2019 will never expire. After the established time has passed a house built without permission becomes tolerated by the administration and can be registered at the land registry.

To register any house at the land registry, one must demonstrate that same was built with planning permission or alternatively that it has existed long enough for the applicable statute of limitations to apply, and that there is no urban infraction procedure open against it.

Properties built in urban land with permission can have a habitation license, and rustic properties built without permission, although registered and tolerated, cannot. The principle function of a habitation license is to connect services (water and electricity). It is also true that a habitation license is required to register the property for holiday rentals, so no habitation license means no holiday rental (legally at least).

If you want a fully legal house which has been built with planning permission and qualifies for a habitation license, then you will need to limit your search to urban areas or look for properties in the countryside with plots of at least 10,000m2. An easy way to identify urban properties, is by their urban infrastructure, they must have mains electricity, mains water, mains sewerage, pavements and street lighting. Obviously, sheer size will help you to identify properties situated on plots of over 10.000m2 of land.

Fully legal
Habitation license
Urban infrastructure
Can increase build size / extend
Probably compatible with tourist rental

More expensive
Rarely in idyllic country locations
Small plots

If you want a house in the countryside with no real issues irrespective of how it started life, a safe bet would be to only look at those which were built before 2010 and which already have water and electricity connected.

More reasonably priced
In idyllic locations (sometimes locations unachievable today)
Larger plots
Can keep animals
Can be used for things not permitted in urban areas

No habitation license
Lack of infrastructure
Tolerated but legally ambiguous
Cannot increase build size
Probably not compatible with tourist rental

Important changes to the LOTUP law and Rustic properties going forward
A modification in 2019 to the Valencia LOTUP law proposed to normalize individual consolidated rustic properties built without planning permission, conceding them a very similar legal status to those built with planning permission. However, when put into practice one fundamental component of this modification has pretty much made it unfit for purpose. The modification essentially said that by meeting certain regulations and minimizing the impact of the property on the environment (predominantly improvements to septic tanks) a construction could become legal, obtain a habitation license, and even be considered for tourist rental. However, the component that made this modification unfit for purpose says that this process can only be initiated when there is a density of less than 3 houses per hectare. When there are more than 3, then the minimization of impact needs to be done collectively (the option for collective minimization exists since 2014). Of course, this collective legalization invariably requires meeting more constraints and that all of those affected by it agree for it to happen. In short, as it stands very, very few properties can be legalized individually and collective legalization is a nonstarter. Hopefully in the not too distant future a further modification will be made to the law which will enable many more individual properties to be normalized.


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