Spain’s Ley de Costas – Coastal Law explained

Ley de Costas - an arbitrary boundary?

Ley de Costas – an arbitrary boundary?

A briefing on the Ley de Costas, or Spanish Coastal Law. Prepared by the National Platform for Owners Affected by the Coastal Law (known as the PNALC, its initials in Spanish), a pressure group with 20,000 members set up to fight the law. © PNALC

2014: This page needs updating to reflect recent changes to the Ley de Costas (in production). See the latest news below for updates.

The Spanish Coastal Law (ley de costas 1988) defines a public domain area along the coast and a further zone where special restrictions apply to private ownership. The aim is to make the whole length of the coastline accessible to the public and to defend the coast against erosion and excessive urbanisation.

Basically there are two zones separated by a demarcation line (deslinde). The two areas are, the public domain, in which there can be no private ownership, and then a zone of 500 meters in which there are several areas and various restrictions to private ownership, the restrictions are very stringent nearer the sea but get more lenient as you get further away from the sea..

The public domain (dominio publico) has a very wide definition, including:

  • The surf zone and the beach
  • All areas where the sea waves reach or have reached in the worst known storms
  • All areas where there is sand, shale or pebbles, whether or not it is built on or whether or not the waves ever reach there, up to a point where the effects of the coastal winds are negligible and the area has no effect on coastal protection
  • All areas reclaimed from the sea

Inside this public domain everything belongs to the state and you automatically lose ownership rights .

If you can prove the property is legal and was built before 1988 you can apply for, as compensation, a concession to use the property for 30+30 years, otherwise it can be demolished. The concession however can be rescinded at any time by the authorities if it is in the “public interest” and the only indemnification is the cost of the buildings on the property, i.e. not including the land.

You cannot sell it (but you have to continue paying the mortgage) and you cannot leave it to your children (unless they are living there when you die).

The private area on the other side of the demarcation line (deslinde) is split into two zones, the first 100 meters is the protection zone and the next 400 meters is the zone of influence.

Inside the 100 meter protection zone the only private property allowed is legal property built before 1988 and on land officially recognised as urban land in 1988 and even then it must be a minimum distance of 20 meters from the demarcation line or else it can be demolished.

Within the zone of influence restrictions apply, for example, you are not allowed to build lines of high rise properties.

+ Coastal boundary map