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Why you should think twice before buying a coastal property in Spain

The Local Spain
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Why you should think twice before buying a coastal property in Spain
Why buying a beachfront home in Spain could be risky. Photo: JM Piqué / Unsplash

While owning a beachfront property is what many people picture when moving to Spain, buying a home right on the coast can result in legal issues as well as other problems down the line.

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There are several reasons why it's risky, but one of the main ones is down to the Ley de Costas or Coastal Law. The Coastal Law was brought into force in December 1989 in order to protect the costas from overdevelopment and high rises spoiling the landscape. 

The law essentially defines different areas of the beach and dictates which is public land, owned by the state and which parts can be owned privately.

The law reads that “Spain has a long coastline, approximately 7,880 kilometres, of which 24 percent correspond to beaches, with a public heritage of about 13,560 hectares, valuable for the great possibilities it offers, but scarce in the face of the growing demands it supports”.

It also adds that it’s "difficult to maintain a physical balance between the two".

Spain's beaches as defined by the Coastal Law

- The first part of the beach is referred to as the Dominio Público Marítimo-Terrestre or Maritime-Terrestrial Public Domain. This is the part that includes the shoreline and beach itself and belongs to the public. Legally, it cannot be privately owned.

- The second part is the Deslinde or the Demarcation line. This separates the beach area that belongs to the state from the interior and the parts that can be owned privately. 

- The third area it defines is the Zona de servidumbre de protección or Protection easement zone, which is a 100 metre swathe of land that extends from the demarcation line. It must be fully accessible to both pedestrians and emergency vehicles.

- The fourth area has been referred to as the Zona de servidumbre de tránsito or Traffic easement zone, which stretches for 6 metres, directly behind the demarcation line and is a protected area. In some places with difficult beach access, this may be extended to 20 metres.

- The last area is the Zona de influencia or Influence zone which is a 500-metre strip of land from the demarcation line. It must be managed by local authorities to include services such as parking areas. There is also a limitation to the height of buildings that can be constructed here.

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Houses in the Public Domain or Protection easement zones

Properties that already existed in one of these areas before the law came into force can be lived in, but not legally owned. Owners will have the right to occupy the house and be given concessions for a period of 75 years. New buildings are not allowed to be built in these areas.

If you own a house in the one of these areas there are many rules you have to abide by concerning works, reforms and extensions. In some cases, they may not be allowed at all and everything must be approved first by the local government by providing a detailed project.  

To find out which zone your property is located in, you can visit the web page of the Ministry for Ecological Transition. Be aware though, if your property currently lies just outside one of these zones, you may find that it might not be within a few years' time due to eroding beaches and rising sea levels. 

The law underwent various amendments in 2013, 2014 and 2020 on the protection and sustainable use of the coast.

The most recent change to the law was in May 2023, which aimed to differentiate between urban and natural stretches of beaches, preserving virgin beaches by limiting both occupation and activities.

It also prohibited new buildings on the coast, both in the public maritime land zone and the part adjacent Traffic easement zone or any changes to buildings that already existed there.

Many are facing eviction in Spain because their seafront properties are now located on public land. Photo: Susan Flynn / Unsplash
 
 

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What problems can arise?

Due to beach erosion, damage from storms and rising water levels, along with to changes in law, some private properties that were in ‘safe and legal’ areas have now moved into the public or protected zones.  

This means that some people in certain zones no longer have the right to ownership of their properties and the government is threatening eviction.

Such a situation has already come about as Spain's Ley de Costas has been amended four times, leading private properties to becoming property of the State.

For example, a total of 3,600 residents in seafront properties in the Valencian town of Denia currently face eviction from their homes and are no longer able to do any work to them or fix them if they need repairing.

Despite the outrage, Alicante's Coastal Department is likely to give them another 30 years to continue living in their beachfront properties, so the evictions are not imminent.

Spain's Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera agrees that “There is a lot of disorder on the coastlines” with regards to the laws, but says that "regeneration is needed, not only due to environment issues but also for public safety". 

The Coastal Law is complicated further by varying rules in different regions and municipalities of Spain and the fact that amendments are being made all the time. A change in government at either regional or national level can also have an impact. 

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Climate change

Despite the complexities of the law, one thing’s for sure -  the global climate crisis is already rapidly changing Spain’s coastlines, and beaches are already disappearing. So nature could quite easily 'evict' a property owner before any law. 

José Serra Peris, Professor of Coastal Engineering at Valencia University explained that “Close to eighty percent of our coastline is receding, some fronts are completely in recession and at risk of beaches disappearing”.  

“In some cases, this would also mean the disappearance of infrastructure, residential, agricultural and industrial areas. It must be noted that we are not only losing beaches, we are losing territory, we are losing economic resources,” he added.

Barcelona's nine city beaches have been losing about 30,000 cubic metres of sand a year and beaches just north of the city such as Montgat and Badalona north areas are almost non-existent now.

READ ALSO: Why are Barcelona's beaches disappearing?

To ensure that you don’t run into problems with the law and to avoid issues with the encroaching sea, your best bet is to look for your new Spanish home slightly further inland, and not very close or right on the beachfront. 

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