First occupancy and habitation licences - what's the difference?

Explanation and five point guide

Spanish Law Wednesday, April 6, 2016
First occupancy and habitation licences

They are both very important documents and yet many people haven’t even heard of them, let alone know what the difference is.  Not until they want to sell their property that is. Jessica Martinez explains why they’re so vital. 

Every new property in Spain must be issued with what’s called a first occupancy licence or Licencia de Primera Ocupación. This licence indicates that the property developer has fulfilled all obligations regarding habitation and the property is ready for occupation.

First occupancy licence

There is quite a strict process that operates in Spain to ensure that any commitments that the developer made during the planning of the property are put into operation.  This might include infrastructure around the development or repairing any damage that has been caused.

You should obtain the licence at the time when you purchase your property. If you are wanting to purchase your property with a mortgage, then it will be expected that there is a first occupancy licence in place. You also need it to enable the connection of main services such as electricity, water and telecommunications. If your builder hasn’t secured one then you can end up only having a builder’s supply which is not sustainable in the long term.

Habitation licence

It is important to note that the original first occupancy licence is only valid for ten years. After this time it must be renewed. Once your utilities are in place, you might not see any reason to renew the licence when it expires. You don’t have to. But when it comes to wanting to sell your property or it passing to someone else through inheritance, then another licence will have to be applied for if the first occupancy licence is over ten years old.

The replacement licence is no longer called the first occupancy licence but the habitation licence  (Licencia de Habitabilidad).The habitation licence takes the place of the first occupancy licence and is needed so that the new owner can change the name on the utility bills. You can obtain one from the town hall but will need to have a habitation certificate signed by an architect to get one. If the new owner does not transfer the contracts to his name then they will be unable to make changes to electricity and water arrangements in future. 

A new purchaser will also want to satisfy themselves by seeing the licence that the property fulfils the habitation laws. They will need this when they come to sell the property again. In the current climate buyers can afford to be choosy and will quickly drop any property that looks as though it might bring ‘problems’ with it. Don’t leave it to chance but make sure that you have everything in place.

All is not lost if you discover that you don’t have a habitation certificate. You can obtain another one from the town hall but do have to pay for this replacement. An important detail that a good lawyer should have checked out for you at the time of purchase.

It’s in everyone’s interest that strict laws exist when it comes to approving buildings for habitation. There is a logical reason why both the first occupancy and habitation certificates exist. If you aren’t sure if you’ve got one and think you might need one soon, then our legal department will be happy to help out.

Five point guide to the first occupancy licence

  • Is issued when the builder has satisfied all habitation requirements
  • Is required to prove that the building has been approved for occupation
  • Is required to establish contracts for drinking water, telecommunications and electricity
  • Is required to sell your property if you sell within the first ten years
  • Must be renewed within ten years – it is then called the habitation licence

Five point guide to the habitation licence

  • Replaces the first occupancy licences when they are renewed
  • Is needed in order to implement any changes to water or electricity contracts
  • Is required to sell your property after it has been built ten years
  • Must be renewed within ten years if you sell
  • Replacements can be obtained from the town hall
  • Reassures a new purchaser that the property complies with habitation laws 

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How does this system work with old houses that were built in the 1980’s . There were no such documents then?

The habitation certificate is one of the key documents you must have when you come to sell your house in Spain. This is a certificate that means that the property complies with the town hall's habitation requirements. It's an important document to have for purchasers of a resale property and it is the responsibility of the seller to pass it on to the purchaser.

Moreover, the mentioned certificate is something you will need to enable the new owner to change the name on the utility bills. 

The habitation certificate is valid for approximately ten years, after which, you will need to renew it if you come to sell your property. This is where it is important to be prepared.

A new habitation certificate will have to be obtained from the town hall. An architect will need to visit your property to check its conditions and he/she will issue a document which must be presented to the town hall. After studying the document from the architect and confirming that everything is correct, the town hall will give you the certificate. Please, bear in mind that you will need to pay for the replacement. 

Usually obtaining the certificate takes around one month after the architect has visited the property. Remember that it would be necessary for someone to enable the architect to access the house to examine it. 

Many people do not change the certificate over immediately. There is no need. It is only when you want to sell your property on.  The certificate is valid for 10 years, so it can expire before you can use it if you are not intending to sell the property for the next few years.

Abaco will be happy to help you apply if you need a new one.

Hello I'm trying to puchace a property in Valencia called casa mora. I've been told by the estate agent selling it that's it's classed as a rustico property.the owner has had it for over 12 years and is mortgaged. My solicitor has told me that it hasn't got a habitation licence .and hes spoke to an architect who has said it would be impossible to get a licence on a rustico this true? It has water and electric and pays ibi. She even lets out chalets on the site. Can you help?

Hi Joanne

There are all kinds of reasons why the habitation certificate cannot be issued or renewed and these reasons could have occurred in the last 12 years as the planning permission laws have been tightened up considerably. 

With rustic properties some of the problems relate to the property suddenly being in a protected area, alterations or extensions having been done which are no longer permitted and cannot be legalised, the sewage disposal does not comply with current regulations, to name but a few. the solicitor has taken the correct steps in consulting an architect who has identified a problem. 

I've been told that ver, very old properties will not have a habitation licence and can never get one. Is this correct?

Hi Merv

There is no general answer to this as obtaining a certificate of habitation depends on numerous factors such as the location of the property, local legislation and the legal situation. 

We bought a Villa built in 2004 in Chercos, Almeria, Spain. We were told by the solicitor at the time that it was perfectly legal and that all the necessary paperwork would come eventually.
We have decided to move and sell but it turns out we have been lied to by the solicitor and the property does not and can never have a habitation licence as it was built illegally and its on special protected Rustic land ( National Park)
Is there anything that we can do to get the villa legalised?

Dear Michael

This would require a complex legal survey. Our recommendation is that even though this property does not have a habitation certificate, this does not imply automatically that it is illegal.  It is possible that it could still be sold. You would be best to contact a local agent who deals with property in this area. 

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