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Why do so many buildings in Spain still not have a lift?

The Local Spain
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Why do so many buildings in Spain still not have a lift?
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If you live in a building of a certain age in Spain, there's a good chance it doesn't have a lift. You might've also realised that, depending on your neighbours, you might not be getting one anytime soon.


As you've probably noticed, most people in Spain live in apartment blocks. For many foreigners arriving in Spain, they might assume that there'd be a lift (ascensor) to make life easier when carrying handfuls of shopping or to allow older, less mobile residents to easily leave home.

Yet, if you've lived in Spain, you have probably noticed that many buildings in Spain don't have lifts and that the locals rely on the stairs alone -- even if it's several stories tall.

According to El Diario's analysis of data from a study of building characteristics published by Spain's statistics body, INE, 5 million people in Spain live in buildings of three or more floors without a lift.

By age, those over aged 60 make up the largest group of people living without lifts. There are one million older people living in buildings with three or more floors who are forced to take the stairs due to the lack of a lift. For many more immobile people, this effectively renders them housebound.

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If you've come across this, and perhaps suffered up and down several stories with a full Mercadona shop in hand yourself, you have probably wondered why.

Why do so many buildings in Spain still not have lifts?


Old builds

Much of the answer comes from history, namely the mass domestic migration of rural Spaniards to urban centres in the 1960s and 1970s and the building techniques prevalent at the time.

In that period, apartment blocks were very quickly built to deal with the flow people, and many were put up cheaply and as soon as possible -- without lifts. Often, these blocks were built with narrow stairwells in order to maximise the number of apartments, making converting them into lifts today much more difficult.

If you live in a liftless multi-story building in Spain today, the chances are it was built in the 1960s or 1970s.

Architect and urban planning expert Iván Rodríguez Suárez told El Diario that the lift-free legacy in Spanish buildings “is a consequence of what the housing model was for the working classes in large urban centres."

These buildings were "built in an accelerated way to accommodate the population that emigrated from the countryside and it was done in a precarious way," Rodríguez adds.

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But it wasn’t as if there were no lifts being built in those days. There were some being constructed in this era, Rodríguez says, although along clear class lines: "We talk about production for the working classes... Yes, there were some lifts in those years, but they were in housing for the bourgeoisie."

When Spain began its transition to democracy and building regulations improved, including laws on accessibility, lifts were installed in many of these sorts of apartment blocks. But in many, for various reasons touched on below, they were not.

As a result, in Spain 33 percent of the high-rise apartment buildings built in the 1960s and 23 percent built in the 1970s still do not have a lift today.

And in many of these buildings it is impossible to install a lift anyway because the building or stairwell is too narrow. In buildings housing apartments of less than 60 m2, almost 40 percent do not have access to a lift.

Today, 42 percent of people over 60 who live in these liftless, multi-story blocks have been in their homes for over forty years. That is to say, many of them are the original cohort of working-class residents who arrived from the countryside.


Costs and 'la comunidad'

But that doesn't wholly explain why so many buildings in Spain still don't have lifts, especially if their absence disproportionately affects older people.

Much of it comes down to two things: money and 'la comunidad' -- the homeowner's association in a building.

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The money issue is twofold. Firstly, whether or not your building has a lift can be linked to income. As household incomes decline, the number of buildings without lifts increases. In fact, almost half of people in Spain who earn less than €500 net per month and 30 percent of households without higher education qualifications live in buildings without a lift.

Another financial factor that explains liftless buildings in Spain is la comunidad, namely getting the agreement of everyone to install and, crucially, pay for a lift. In Spain lift installation can cost between €40.000 and €75.000.

Spain's Horizontal Property Law (LPH) is the regulation that regulates building works in shared properties. Article 10 establishes that alterations and modifications may be made to shared areas of buildings for reasons of accessibility, so long as the majority of owners vote in favour and the building gets the approval of the corresponding municipal licence issuer.

That is to say, if a majority of homeowner's in the building don't want to pay for lift installation, there won't be one.

Understanding this, combined with the correlation between income, apartment size and lift accessibility, explains why there are still so many buildings in Spain without lifts. Many people would love to have a lift but simply can't.



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