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Unfortunately Spain is well known for its notorious Land Grab laws - but to explain exactly what land grab is, we need to look at building land designations. In the first instance it must be remembered that Spain is split into 17 autonomous regions or communities all of which have their own laws upon which any land grab actions are based, besides the national laws which don't affect these actions.

Here are the three Spanish Land Classifications:

Urbano (Building) Land:
This is clearly designated as such in or near villages and towns. Usually smaller plots than other classifications and is more expensive than land in the Rustico class. Property within this designation cannot be subject to "land grab" if it has been fully urbanised.

Rustico Land:
This is all land not classed as Urbanised. Rustic land is the largest land classification in Spain. Rustico land can be re-designated as Urbanisable at any time. This is likely to happen in high development potential areas such as those close to the coast or, a popular town inland. If the Rustico Land is re-classified as Urbanisable it is at this point that "Land Grab" along with all the liabilities for the cost of new infrastructure could happen.

This is land that was Rustico but where the designation has been changed. It is actually the transition period between the land being Rustico and Urbano. At this stage a buyer or owner of property in the affected area can inherit a significant liability, as a property owner, to contribute to the new infrastructure works. The works could mean the installation of street lighting, utilities and services (water electricity etc) and the cost to an occupant whose property is included is very high indeed. If the road has to be widened, then the occupant will also have to give up some of his land for this purpose and if your house happens to be on the requisitioned land - then a demolition order may follow. The urbanized cost - that is "contributing" to the infrastructure is based on your land area and although contributions vary from area to area a sum of 40€/m2 of land owned would not be unusual.

The Urbano plot may have a project and license to build or you may apply for permission to build a home of a given size without any problems. Building plots range in size from 600m2 to 2,000m2 depending on the conditions applied to the urbanization plan (Plan Parcial). Usually urbanizations comprising individual houses are made up of plots of 800-1000m2. As a general rule, a building may not occupy more than 20% to 30% of the area of the building plot.

Rustico plots (Suelo no urbanizable) Building is permitted although this varies throughout all the different communities. In many areas on a plot of 10,000m2 a building of no more that 2% will be allowed as a ground floor with a maximum total house size of 400m2 (max 2 floors). The 400m2 is the house size and a cellar; terraces and pool can also be added. Rustico plots are generally much cheaper than Urban, but remember that you may have no water or electricity on the land and it is expensive to buy a water share. Many rustic or "campo homes" only use solar, wind and generators for power and the water is only agricultural supply.

Building & Restoration Regulations in Spain - Important changes to the rules

It is quite common practice these days for people invest in an old run-down finca, barn or even a total ruin with a view to restoring it to a habitable dwelling. Until very recently, it was possible to restore and extend a ruin in a rustic zone to occupy an area equivalent to 2% of the plot size, without having a minimum 10,000m2 plot. Sometimes an insignificant heap of stones on a small plot was interpreted as being an existing building by some town halls in order to get around the rules. However, this loop hole has now been closed by the regional authorities and planning applications to extend the building beyond its original size with less than 10,000 m2 of land will be rejected.

The General rules are:

The ascetic appearance must always be maintained; for example if the existing building is built of stone then the restoration must be the same. Large PVC patio doors and other modern fittings visible from the exterior are not allowed. Permission would almost certainly be refused for the addition of such features as circular towers or turrets.

Extension to or expansion of the existing building is limited to a maximum total constructed area of 2% on each floor. Therefore an existing ruin with a constructed area of 120m2 on a plot of 10,000 m2 could be extended to 400m2 in total with a maximum ground floor area of 200m2. A plot of less than 10,000m2 would only permit the building to be restored or repaired but not extended beyond its original size.
EG plot size 10,000m2 x 0.2 = 200m2 per floor.
Maximum two floors = 400m2 (Total constructed area.)


Portugal is quite different to Spain as Portugal has some of the strictest planning laws in Europe which have been introduced to ensure sustainable development and to enhance and protect green open spaces. Perhaps they are determined not to go the same way as Spain and allow vast over-development that has taken place there.

There are five different classifications for land:

(Protected) There is an almost zero chance of any development on Reserve status land.

A forest or woodland areas. New fire regulations have made it difficult to secure planning permission on this classification

If land within the local published Local Development Plan designated areas - planning permission is usually granted.

Mainly agricultural and planning permission is unlikely to be approved although a building such as a timber frame unit would be favoured as it would not be viewed as a permanent dwelling The Plano Director Municipal (PDM), which governs this classification, is updated regularly and gives clear definitions of any changes to land classification in all areas.

Land designated for commercial use in industrial areas.

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Every timber frame house built saves about 4 tonnes of CO2 (a similar amount produced by driving 14.000 miles in a 1300 cc car).

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