State expropiation of coastal properties in Spain

London and Berlin put pressure on Spain against ‘Ley de Costas’

The British and German embassies in Madrid have had high level meetings to discuss numerous cases where their citizens have had their properties expropriated by the state under the Spanish ‘Ley de Costas’ passed in 1988.

Recently both embassies have received complaints by their citizens who own houses in costal areas of their properties and land being taken over by the Spanish state. Many of these properties were built in the 1970’s but the ‘Ley de Costas’ states that all the Spanish coastline is ‘public maritime territory’ and that no house or swimming pool can be built on it.

However, during the 1970’s a lot of properties were built on the coast. In this case the law states that after 30 years the land will become the property of the state, a period which can be extended to 60 years. In order for this to be legal the State department ‘Costas’ has to define the areas under question. The ‘Ley de Costas’ gave a 5 year period in which this demarcation should take place. Nevertheless, 20 years later there are still 1,8454 kilometres of coastline (17%) that have not been clearly defined.

Many problems are now coming to light with cases of foreigners who have bought their properties in good faith and who are now being threatened with expropriation by the state. Furthermore, the British and German embassies have received complaints by people who were not warned of this law or its consequences when they signed their property deeds in the presence of a Spanish ‘notary’ whose job it is to check the details of a sale and alert the buyers of any possible problems.

The Environment Ministry has recently announced that it is preparing an agreement for property registrars and notaries to make sure that the obligations of the Ley de Costas is reflected clearly in all property deeds.

Although the ‘Ley de Costas’ was passed in 1988 it was not until 2004 when Cristina Narbona became Minister for the Environment that it began to be applied vigorously. In fact under the PP government demarcation of coastal areas came to a standstill between 1996 and 2004. Since then thousands of Spaniards and foreign citizens have seen how their houses on the coast have passed into the hands of the state.

British and German officials who have held high level meetings with Spanish officials in order to try and get a clarification of the law have not received much sympathy.

In a interview for El Pais the General Director of ‘Costas’, Alicia Paz, said that in a recent meeting with British officials ‘they wanted more technical information on the law and its application but all added that they shared the spirit of the law’.

People affected by the ‘Ley de Costas’ are getting organized and have created a national platform for those affected. Its president, Carmen del Amo, has calculated that there are around 45,000 properties that could be affected by this law, 15% of which are owned by foreigners. Nevertheless Paz Antolín, the Minister for the Environment, appears unsympathetic saying that the government has won 97% of case that have reached the Spanish High Court.

The controversy over a law which was passed 20 years ago and which was not applied for 8 of those looks set to continue. However, Paz Antolín has confirmed that the government does not have any plans at present to reform the law and said that the Spanish parliament passed the law with the intention that everybody should have the right to enjoy free access to the Spanish coastline.