Spanish government can expropriate beach apartments in exchange for right of use

by Lorraine Williamson
beach apartments

The Spanish government may potentially expropriate beach apartments, hotels, or beachfront establishments. In exchange, the owners will be granted usage rights for a period of 30 years. In some cases may be extended for an additional 30 years.

The Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition is working on a new amendment to the General Coastal Regulation. The government aims to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels. In January 2024, the Supreme Court rejected part of the text due to a procedural error. It is expected that the amendment will follow the same direction as the latest reform of 2022, granting the state the ability to expropriate real estate and land in areas where sea levels are rising. This is a controversial measure for individuals, entrepreneurs, and municipalities. However, the court did not address this aspect.

Ownership Subordinated to Public Domain

Essentially, if someone owns a beach front apartment and sea levels rise, the state may determine that the land on which the property stands falls within the coastline and the property becomes public domain. Ownership then becomes subordinate to the public domain. In theory, the government can then do as it pleases with the real estate. According to the text, owners can be granted 30-year usage rights after expropriation. However, in some cases this may be extended for a further 30 years. The Constitutional Court has previously ruled on this, stating that a concession, transferring rights to the state, is lawful in this case.

Who Determines the Boundary?

Lawyer Ernesto García-Trevijano Garnica informs El Elconomista that “there are many cases where sea levels have not risen, yet there is a change in criteria, and they still take your house away. There are major conflicts involving procedures against boundary determinations. The affected party must be informed that the line runs over their property. Then they can appeal to ascertain the geological reason for that change. If the sea has moved inland, they will have less chance of winning. In that case, there are technical reasons justifying the need to protect the area. Due to changing circumstances, this is permissible for the protection of public domain,” explains the lawyer.

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Loss of Control over Own Home

When the state seizes an apartment, the consequences for the owner are numerous. If the property is expropriated, the government has the final say on any changes made to the property. The owner must request permission to transfer the concession (the state has a preferential right here), as well as to mortgage the property or even carry out renovations, since the house is no longer their property.

On the other hand, the government aims to establish criteria in the new regulation for permissible activities near beaches and to avoid overcrowding. Currently, this is determined by municipal regulations. The goal of the new text from the Ministry for Ecological Transition is to reach a minimum agreement to standardize rules and improve coastal protection.

Implications for Promenades and Beachfront Establishments

The regulation may also have implications for promenades. If sea levels rise, the state can change the boundary of the coastal area and determine that part of the promenade is no longer municipal land but public domain.

For beachfront establishments, the Supreme Court has already made rulings. The so-called “chiringuitos” may be built with only one floor, and no basement may be built beneath the establishment to minimise environmental impact. No changes are expected in this regard.

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