What planning permission do you need to renovate an apartment in Barcelona?
When it comes to refurbishing a flat in Spain, like I am doing in Barcelona, planning rules are more complex than in other countries like the UK. But given how badly the Spanish planning system works in general, it can be surprisingly easy to renovate a flat in Barcelona, depending on what you want to do.
I want to completely refurbish an apartment located in the right side of Barcelona’s Eixample district (Eixample Dreta), in a building built in 1900 with a beautiful Moderniste façade like the one pictured above that many tourist stop to take photos of.
Luckily for me, although the façade is protected (like all Moderniste façades in Barcelona) the building is not listed, or catalogado as it is known in Spanish, so I do not face any extra restrictions that come with listed buildings, like Gaudi’s Casa Milà (aka La Pedrera) or the Casa de les Punxes, which is just around the corner from me.
And crucially, although I am going to totally refurbish the interior of the property, I am not going to change the interior division of space in any way by knocking down or building new partition walls, known as tabiques in Spanish. This makes the planning permission process very quick, easy, and cheap.
If you just plan cosmetic changes like repainting you can just get on with it – you don’t need a licence or to inform anyone. However if, like me, you plan a full renovation including new plumbing and electrical wiring, new floors, tearing out and replacing bathrooms and kitchen, but do NOT plan to change the interior division of space by demolishing or building new partition walls, nor touch the structure of the property, then you only need what is known in Catalan as an Assabentat d’Obres, which you can request free online from the municipal site for administrative procedures here.
You are basically just informing the municipal authority that you are doing building work that does not need a licence because the scope of the work is permitted under current planning laws. I think this is called a Comunicación Previa in other parts of Spain, though I’m sure someone will correct me if I am wrong. All countries allow a certain amount of building work without a licence, to avoid clogging up the planning system. This is called Permitted Development (PD) in the UK, though PD is much broader in the UK than Spain.
Licencia de Obra Menor
For interior reforms that change the division of space by changing partition walls you need a Licencia de Obra Menor (Llicència d’Obra Menor in Catalan), which is a licence for limited building works. This requires a project signed off by an architect and can take two months or more to obtain, with a cost in licences and fees that can typically add up to €2,000 or more for apartment renovations in Barcelona, my building team manager tells me.
Licencia de Obra Mayor
To build something new or change the structure of an existing property you need what is known as a Licencia de Obra Mayor (Llicència d’obra major in Catalan). Due to the lack of building land in Barcelona new building is uncommon, but many people want to allow more light into flats by opening up passageways through load-bearing walls that involve structural work and do require this licence. It requires a project signed off by an architect and can take two months or more to obtain, with a cost in licences and fees that can typically add up to €2,500 or more, depending on the scope of the work.
So obvious an Assabentat d’Obres is by far the easiest, cheapest, and quickest route to refurbishing an apartment in Barcelona, which is why 68% of renovation projects in Barcelona are done this way, according to municipal figures. You just have to live with the existing distribution of space. Do you really need to move that partition wall?