Guide to Ley de Costas – Spanish Coastal Law

Social media can be a great source of information, but in some areas it can be more misleading than helpful. Whenever we have seen reference to the coastal law regarding the extent of public land it has always been given in a metre measurement of coastline – but that has varied from 3 to 20 metres according to the varying views of the people sharing the information.

From research we have undertaken it seems that the law is nowhere near that simple.

The extent of public ownership is determined by many factors, and most are not easy to assess through measurement or even the currently observable physical environment.

The authoritative ‘Spanish Property Insight’ blog, by Mark Stücklin, gives a very useful guide to the Ley de Costas. Though it has been amended in some respects by legal cases of property owners objecting to its consequences to their land ownership it can be considered as current and correct in terms of public right of way and access to the coastline.

The Spanish Coastal Law (ley de costas 1988) defines a public domain area along the coast and a further zone where special restrictions apply to private ownership. The aim is to make the whole length of the coastline accessible to the public and to defend the coast against erosion and excessive urbanisation.

Basically there are two zones separated by a demarcation line (deslinde). The two areas are, the public domain, in which there can be no private ownership, and then a zone of 500 meters in which there are several areas and various restrictions to private ownership. The restrictions are very stringent nearer the sea but get more lenient as you get further away from the sea..

The Public Domain

The public domain (dominio publico) has a very wide definition, including:

  • The surf zone and the beach
  • All areas where the sea waves reach or have reached in the worst known storms
  • All areas where there is sand, shale or pebbles, whether or not it is built on or whether or not the waves ever reach there, up to a point where the effects of the coastal winds are negligible and the area has no effect on coastal protection
  • All areas reclaimed from the sea

Inside that area everything is deemed to belong to the state, and any historic ownership is forfeited.

However there are usage exceptions. If a property owner can prove that buildings on that portion of land are legal, and were constructed before 1988, they can apply for compensation, but only in the form of a concession to use the property for 30 years. If they cannot prove legality and age of construction it can be demolished.

Even if that concession of use is granted, it can be rescinded at any time by the authorities if it is considered to be in the “public interest”. In that situation the property owner would only receive financial compensation to the value of the building construction, not the market value of the property including the plot of land it sits upon.

The Private Area – Protection Zone and Zone of Influence

The private area on the other side of the demarcation line (deslinde) is split into two zones, the first 100 meters is the protection zone and the next 400 meters is the zone of influence.

Inside the 100 meter protection zone the only private property allowed is legal property built before 1988 and on land officially recognised as urban land in 1988 and even then it must be a minimum distance of 20 meters from the demarcation line or else it can be demolished.

Within the zone of influence restrictions apply, for example, it is not allowed to build high rise properties.

A resource on Mark’s website is the Spanish Government Map which shows the two coastal lines in incredible detail, together with property boundaries etc.

  • See the Coastal Map here

  • and see Mark Stücklin’s full article together with a wealth of other information on buying and owning property in Spain here