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Renting property in Spain: Know your rights as a tenant

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Renting property in Spain: Know your rights as a tenant
Photo: photography33/Depositphotos

Find out what your rights as a tenant are, and how best to enforce them

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First a little history....

Following the Spanish Civil War, Spain experienced a severe housing crisis. On top of this, most people had very large families. To ameliorate the problem, laws were enacted to give tenants maximum protection. For many years, landlords had very little power. Until recently, it was almost impossible for them to evict tenants, even those that didn’t pay.

Following the recent financial crisis, the laws were rewritten to enable landlords to evict non-paying tenants. This allowed the real estate market to recover. But even today, the laws do favour the tenants.

“You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar”

Because of this history, landlords can be very tricky to deal with. Thus, our first word of advice is to tread lightly. Strongly asserting your demands usually causes landlords to dig in and be very “by the book.” If you are polite and respectful (throwing in a little charm can often be very helpful), you will likely enjoy freedoms beyond your substantial legal rights.

Short or long-term contract?

There is a big difference in tenant rights for short vs long term rentals. Short term rentals (anything less than a year) do not give tenants nearly as many rights as long term rentals. In fact, in the past landlords used to try and get tenants to sign eleven-month contracts to give themselves maximum protection. However, those days are over. Even if you have signed an eleven-month contract, the courts will consider that as a long-term contract if you have been living in the place daily, you have engaged WiFi/telephone services, etc.

Photo: photography33/Depositphotos

READ ALSO: Why rising rents across Spain are causing a new crisis

What happens after the first year?

Long-term rental contracts are typically for a year. After that, landlords are legally compelled to renew the lease for annual periods for the next three years. The only exception to this is if the landlord wants the property to live in as their primary residence, or if a first degree relative needs to live in it due to separation, divorce or marriage annulment. This must be established in a court of law. In this case, the tenant must be compensated by the landlord.

Tenants, however, can choose not to renew their leases each year. This is one of tenants’ greatest powers. Moreover, they can choose to opt out of their contract after the first six months, provided they furnish the landlord with written notice thirty days in advance.

What happens if you get divorced?

If you get divorced, you are legally entitled to continue living in the apartment even if your ex was the person that signed the lease.

How much of a security deposit to a have to pay?

One month for unfurnished places, two months for furnished. The deposit is payable in cash or via direct bank deposit and held in an escrow account. If you pay via cash, make sure you get a receipt.

Photo: AFP

Can I use my security deposit as the last month’s rent?

No. This is because the tenant is responsible for regular wear and tear (see below for more about this). If you don’t maintain the property adequately, repairs will come out of your deposit.

Can the landlord increase my rent?

After the first year, yes. This is based on the Spanish Consumer Price Index, unless otherwise specified in the lease. Landlords can also increase the rent if they make positive, material changes to the property (eg: installing a Jacuzzi).

Conversely, if the landlord renovates the apartment during the course of the lease, and part of the property is uninhabitable for more than twenty days, the rent can be reduced during this time. For example, if 25 percent of the apartment is uninhabitable for more than twenty days, you can reduce your rent by 25 percent during this time.

You have the right to live in a habitable space

The landlord is obligated, at all times, to maintain the property in a habitable condition.

However, the tenant is responsible for repairing any damage they cause to the apartment. This includes regular wear and tear. If the tenant doesn’t make these repairs, the landlord can do so at the tenant’s expense.

Likely, you will have to pay your own utility bills

This is where things can get a bit tricky. Often, the utility bills are in the landlord’s name. Legally they can be put in the tenant’s name, although the utility companies will often charge you to make the change. This, combined with the fact that companies like Iberdrola and Telefonica aren’t exactly known for providing positive customer service experiences, is the reason utility bills are often kept in the landlord’s name, and the monthly costs passed to the tenants.

Community fees and local taxes are typically paid by the landlord

However, make sure to read your lease carefully. Sometimes it is written into the contract that the tenant is responsible for a portion of these fees. If that is the case, make sure to negotiate them before you sign.

Can I have pets?

Unless it is expressly written into the rental contract that pets are forbidden, you may have them.

Photo: allaserebrina/Depositphotos

Sadly, you don’t have a 100 percent right to spruce up your place 

If you want to modify your space, you need written permission from your landlord, which can be denied. The exception is if you have a disability, in which case the landlord is obligated to agree to your request.

You have the right to privacy

The landlord is not allowed to enter a tenant’s property without prior consent.

What if I don’t pay my rent?

If you do not pay rent for two months, the landlord has the right to begin formal eviction procedures. Typically, they will give you the chance to pay your arrears, or workout a payment plan, before taking legal action.

Photo: podsolnukh/Depositphotos

What if my landlord doesn’t pay their mortgage, or the property is affected by a similar court order?

If the property is repossessed, the tenant has the right to live in the property for five years, from the day the lease was signed.

Right to buy the apartment

If the landlord wishes to see the property, they must notify the tenant in writing of the intent to sale, the sale price and other key conditions. The tenant is first in line to buy the property at the stated price and can even “jump the queue” if the landlord has lined up other buyers. If the tenant wishes to exercise this right, they must do so, in writing, within thirty days of being notified that the landlord intends to sell.  

You can sublet part of your apartment

If you wish to sublet a portion of your apartment, you may do so but you must obtain written permission from your landlord. Legally you can only sublet a portion of your apartment. Moreover, you legally cannot charge more for the sublet than you pay in rent for the entire property.

If you want to sublet your entire apartment, you must have the lease reassigned to the new tenant. Obviously, this requires the landlord’s approval.

A final caveat

Remember, there is often more flexibility in the Spanish system than is initially apparent. A number of expats in Spain have the saying, “rules are for people that they [Spaniards] don’t like.” This is often the case. If you are respectful to your landlord, and mindful of the fact that for years they were at the whims of tenants (and still are if the tenant doesn’t want to vacate the property for three years) and thus feel vulnerable, your rights will likely be extended beyond those listed above.

Disclaimer: This information is valid as of October 9, 2018

This guide has been produced with legal advice from Moving2Madrid, a property agent that works for buyers and renters and focuses exclusively on the Madrid market.  

READ MORE: The survivor's guide to renting in Madrid 



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