First use license and habitation certificate. Tomatoe, tomato. Are they the same thing?

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There are two documents which are essential before moving into a house in Spain. They are called first use license (“licencia de primera ocupación”) and habitation certificate (“cédula de habitabilidad”). These two documents sometimes have their own validity and in other occasions complement each other. It is difficult to summarize the requirements for these two documents because each region has its own legislation and also because they are very similar.

The First use license aims to check whether a property has been built according to the technical design and to the building permit. Once granted, it confirms that the construction has been built in accordance to the licence granted and the designs submitted at the Town Hall planning office. This licence is therefore vital for new properties or for properties that have been totally converted or with relevant major works. The person obliged to request this document is the holder of the planning and construction permit, generally the owner or the property developer.   It is an essential document required to apply for the provision of utility services, such as electricity and water and some regions in Spain demand this document prior to selling or letting a property.

In the most extreme cases, the absence of the said license could even imply a cause for the termination of a rental contract.  The lack of a first use licence can also prove a problem for an Estate Agent as he could be held liable for not checking this point and he could lose the right to receive his commission.

On the other hand, the Habitation Certificate is a document that certifies the minimum safety, health and occupation levels in a property in order to be dwelled. Furthermore it controls the minimum living surface and equipment in the property.

In certain areas like Cataluña, this document is compulsory and a property cannot be sold or let without it. In other areas, the first occupation licence covers the functions of the habitation certificate and therefore there is no need to obtain both. Depending on the kind of property and the place it is located, the expiration time will be different and will range from 6 months to 15 years. These are the reasons why it is advisable to verify this point before signing any contract or committing to the purchase of a specific property.

Obtaining this document is not complicated. If the seller does not have the document you must ask the seller to supply it before completion. If this is not possible and you are prepared to take the risk of completing without the habitation certificate in place, you must sort it after completion. The best way to do it is by contacting an Architect and requesting him or her for a certificate which will have to be endorsed by the Professional College of Architects. The Architect will inspect the property and verify that the property meets the regulations. It may be the case that someone appointed by the Town Hall also inspects the property prior to issuing the certificate of habitation, although this is not necessarily the case.  Once you have the Architect’s certificate, you have to present it before the corresponding public administration, together with the documentation required. Then, eventually, a certificate of habitation will be issued.

As indicated, these are vital documents that need to be requested prior to buying a property in Spain. Each region has its own intricacies but in general terms most of the regions in Spain request the existence of a document certifying the habitability of a property. These could mean both the First use licence and the habitation certificate or just one of them. When in doubt, the best thing is to seek independent legal advice as the lack of such a document could imply that the property is illegal and non-habitable.