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Legalising Building Work in Tenerife

Whether you are considering the purchase of a resale property, or indeed refurbishing/extending a property you already own, care must be taken to ensure that the works are carried out legally. Failure to do so can lead to fines and even a demolition order in respect of the illegal works.

Buyers should also check that the entire property they are buying is properly registered and reflected in the plans. Banks will only grant a mortgage based on the value of on the parts of a property that are properly registered and they will ignore illegal extensions or out-buildings that do not show in the official documentation.

Applying for a building licence in Tenerife can be complicated and expensive, as it requires the involvement of an architect or technical architect, depending on the type of works. There are 2 main categories of domestic works, ‘Obras Mayores’ (major works) and ‘Obras Menores’ (minor works). ‘Obras Mayores’ typically includes building extensions and knocking down or moving supporting walls, whilst ‘Obras Menores’ typically covers non-structural changes such as installing a new kitchen, bathroom, tiling, electrical work etc. Fees for a typical small refurbishment of an apartment might run to a few hundred Euros in Town Hall fees, whilst building an entire house could run into several thousands.

Historically, it was a national sport in Tenerife (particularly in the rural areas) to build extensions, or even entire buildings, without obtaining any licence or permission whatsoever. Indeed, many owners got away with such works for many years. However, in recent years, the authorities actually hire survey aeroplanes to regularly take comprehensive photos covering their entire borough. Checks are conducted between the latest and previous photos and where a new or altered structure has appeared, the property is often flagged up for further investigation. Hence, the chances of getting away with extending your property illegally has diminished considerably.

Where works have been carried out illegally, one way in which owners avoid problems or demolition orders is by a process known as ‘prescripcion’. Subject to various rules and exceptions, this basically provides that if an illegal structure or extension has been standing for more than 4 years without any official complaint being filed or the Town Hall having issued any notice or query during that period, then the owner can apply to have the illegal portion legalised and added to the official plans. However, as mentioned above, the chances of the illegal works going unnoticed for 4 years has diminished considerably.

Even where it is possible to apply, the procedure is invariably as or more expensive and far more time-consuming than having applied for the correct building licence in the first place. Such applications will also be rejected in certain circumstances, e.g. where a structure poses a danger to the public or breaches some other major planning law applicable in the borough.

Even if a ‘prescription’ application is successful, the owner may then face further difficulties, for example, banks (and a fair number of potential buyers) will not take the previously illegal portion of the property into account for valuation purposes, even after a successful ‘prescription’ application. Hence, the owner is likely to have to sell such a property at a substantial discount over a comparable property that is 100% legal from the outset. The pool of potential buyers is also likely to be thinner, as such legal complications may well scare off those less accustomed to how such matters work in Tenerife.

In addition to rectifying the property details on the Land Registry title deed, the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) will also wish to update their own records to reflect the new property specifications, and will doubtless seek to increase the rateable value for the property accordingly for IBI (Council Tax) purposes!