BARCELONA RENOVATION: What Planning Permission do you need?

Barcelona Moderniste property renovation refurbishment

Barcelona Moderniste façade

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.

Assabentat d’Obres

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?

Builders in Barcelona

I’m pleased with the company doing my renovation work, whom I found through personal contacts. They are handling everything for me – design, planning, and building. If you need to renovate a property in Barcelona, or need any building work done, and want to get a quote from a good builder who can take care of all your work and deal with you in English (or Spanish / Catalan) I can put you in touch with them.

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About Mark Stücklin

Mark Stücklin is a Barcelona-based Spanish property market analyst, and author of the 'Spanish Property Doctor' column in the Sunday Times (2005 - 2008).

10 thoughts on “BARCELONA RENOVATION: What Planning Permission do you need?”

  1. Mike51

    When you apply for “obra menor” ( a minor works licence ), our experience is that the Townhall is more interested in the costs of the works so that they can levy the appropriate tax, rather than the actual work itself.

    1. Chris Nation

      Mark, you are a lucky man.

      I agree with Mike51. Nobody has shown the slightest interest in viewing work or results. That’s good news really. There would only be meddling and more expense.

      I don’t know if Obras Menores still exists here in VLC, free of charges and papeles, but we do now have Declaración de Responsibilidad Tipo ll, which seems to be equivalent to the Obs Mens you have in Barça.

      You recall in my previous post I said, “Don’t mention the floor!” My casual remark to The Architect about taking up the second layer of tiles laid over the originals resulted in a €150+ tax charge for a ‘loading calculation’. How have you dodged that one?

      My tradesmen have finished and I have the place to myself. Lots to do, including complete kitchen fit out. This weather has resulted in surface mould on all the areas where new plaster borders original. Dry heat would deal with it but I can’t afford to do it courtesy of Iberdrola. I need standard Valenciano weather back, pronto!

      1. Mark Stücklin Post Author

        Chris, luckily we don’t have the Declaración here in Catalonia, so one less expense. To me that just sounds like a shakedown by the local authority. My budget is fixed, I can find ways to save money, but in theory all the work in the budget will be done for the agreed cost. I don’t think there is a loading calculation, but then again I’m not using an architect and not taking up any tiles.

        1. Chris Nation

          Mark, you mentioned “new floors”. Either that means new over original or old up, new down.

          But if it isn’t an issue for anyone, that’s great.

          Good luck with “all works to be done for agreed cost”. I had several detailed on site discussions and my quotes likewise covered everything, each priced up.

          However, when the guys are on site and they discover some anomaly, either with the way things are now or the way you want them to end up, which is bound to happen, the remedy may be, “Yes. Go on. Do that,” And “that” will be extra.

          Apart from doing house renovation in the past, for myself and for others, I had 7 years of repairs and fit-outs to boats.

          There is always something that just had to be dialled in that nobody, with the best will in the world, could have foreseen. And then, there are some that they should! But being necessary, tho off- budget, have to be paid for.

          But, as I have found, keeping an eagle eye on the project, grinding really small on detail, putting up a spreadsheet with everything on it and the totals fields linked to “total project budget” and “total project balance due”, you can avoid nasty surprises, if not the occasional addition to “balance due” when an extra had to be added.

          1. Mark Stücklin Post Author

            I get the feeling that right now I’m saying yes to lots of great ideas without keeping an eye on the cost. The problem is time, or the lack there of. I have time to listen and say yes, but not time to analyse and control in detail following your suggestions. Maybe I’ll have more time next week, or maybe not. Luckily, I think I’m in good hands.

  2. GarySFBCN

    Well, we did obra mayor. Here’s another tip: When things start taking shape, keep a spreadsheet of all the things that need to be completed (there will be lots of little things) by room and categorize them by missing, defect, new item, etc. I color coded these by status – green finished, red in process, black nothing done. It really made a difference – our list had 110 items, some quite serious. Here’s a sample, but I used Excel and it really helped to track what needed to be done.

    Donde Posicion Tema Nota/Pregunta/Problema Clase

    Cocina Puerta cordadera Puerta No es facil de abrir/cerrar Defecto
    Cocina Puerta cordadera Puerta Esta rallada Defecto
    Cocina Pladur Pladur Esta mala dentro la ventana y baldosas Defecto
    Cocina Las luces Luces Estan mal puestas Defecto
    Cocina Las luces Pintura Manchas de pintura en las luces Defecto
    Cocina Rejilla Rejilla Esta mal puesta Defecto

    1. Mark Stücklin Post Author

      Gary, that’s a brilliant idea. I’ve already created a Google sheet using your guidelines, though as of yet there is nothing to put on the snagging list. But in the same workbook I’ve created another sheet with a column for each room/space, and started listing the things I want done in each space. Being a Google sheet it’s easy to share with the building team, no need for version control. These days there are so many browser plugins/addons and other online tools for collaborating on a project like this the problem is knowing where to start. I’ll try and review some of them in the process.

  3. drpetyag

    I am not able to find the proper topic , but wondered if anyone has an idea if it is customary in Spain to tip a builder at the end of a project?
    I have noticed that local or expat builders charges differ, so, could you suggest if tipping hiw much iis expected if expected.

    Thank you!

    1. Mark Stücklin Post Author

      I haven’t tipped, and as far as I know it’s not expected or common practise in Spain. But of course if you are happy with work, and want to show your appreciation over and above the budget, there is nothing to stop you tipping and I’m sure it will be gladly received.

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