Property Lawyer in Spain | Neighbouring Properties

Neighbouring Properties


There are many occasions when rules are needed to organise relations between neighbouring plots or properties.

In Spanish Law, those relations between plots are ruled by what is known as “Servidumbre”.

A Servidumbre is a burden – an obligation affecting a property which requires the owner to do something, or inversely, to not do something for the benefit of another property.

These can consist of a right of access, the right to construct windows with views, the right of access to the water supply or sewage, or the rights that arise from a shared wall.

There are also rules about distances between buildings, windows or trees, or the way to conduct activities that may impact on neighbouring properties.

For a property to have a right of “servidumbre” with respect to another property it is necessary that they belong to different owners and they were acquired in a proper manner:

  • Some of them can be imposed by one of the owners on the other by legal means. Others can not be imposed ( sewage for instance) and can only be agreed upon between the neighbouring owners.


  • If a mean of access, window, sewage pipes, etc. was build by someone owning both properties, and subsequently one of them is sold without stating anything in the deed, the window, access, sewage pipes, etc, will gain the right to be maintained.

  • Some of them can be gained by habitual use over a given time, this is usually twenty years ( for example the right for the water supply to pass through the property ). Other rights, such as right of access, can not be acquired in this way.

    For those that can be gained over a period of time, in some cases this period will start from the moment the issue arises ( for example a neighbour builds beams into a shared wall), and sometimes the period starts from when a neighbour forbids building work, for example, that which will block a window ( an owner of a building with a window that looks on to a neighbour’s plot that does not respect the obligatory distance, may not have the right to keep the window however, if this owner forbids the neigbour to block it he will gain the right to the window after twenty years).

  • Once the right is gained, by whichever means ( law, agreement or time), the right remains with the land or building. The current owner can not transfer the right to another property or acquire the right for himself. Likewise, the plot which bears the burden will continue to do so, regardless of who the owner may be.
  • If the burden is not inscribed in the Land Registry and the purchaser does not know of its existence, in principle the buyer wouldn’t be constrained to respect it but an immense amount of court resolutions establish that, when the burden can clearly be seen, the buyer can be obliged to respect the neighbour’s right even if it is not inscribed in the Land Registry.


    Tall trees can not be planted within a distance of two metres of a neighbouring plot or within 50 cms in the case of a low tree or bush.
    This rule is to be applied by a court and in accordance with the current Civil Code ( 1889), so older trees are not affected by this rule.

  • If the branches of a tree overhang a neighbouring property, the owner of this land can demand that the branches are cut back from above the property.
  • If the roots of the tree extend into the neighbouring land, the owner of this neighbouring land can cut the roots of the tree back to the boundary line.
  • If the trees or bushes actually form the boundary as a hedge it is deemed to be a shared hedge, and either of the owners can ask to have it replaced.

    Current council rules or urban planning regulations may also exist, which impose different distances to be observed. These distances can be claimed by the neighbour from the local authority, and a given period of time established by these rules to comply ( commonly within four years if there is a lack of observance of local planning regulations).


    There are new court resolutions that can entail criminal responsibility for people, who in the running of their business, cause noise that can disturb or affect the health of the neighbours ( Bars, Disco, etc).

    In other less severe cases there are new court resolutions that, in the civil jurisdiction, protect the right of the owner to not be disturbed by the activity of neighbours. The following is a curious case. An owner started a holiday lettings business in his house beside the town’s church. The church had been there for centuries as had been the clock on the church tower. The bell of the clock chimed every hour on the hour, and then repeated chiming. That meant that at eleven o’clock at night, the bell chimed 22 times at eleven o’clock and then again at quarter past, half past and quarter to, before chiming again 24 times at midnight. This was much to the despair of the house’s guests so the owner claimed in court against the Catholic Church and won.

    The same can be said of cattle barns, chimneys, cesspools, etc built without observing the regulation distances or built without the appropriate protective measures that must be observed.


    It is deemed that a wall within a building, or between plots of land or a hedge is shared between neighbours.

    It won’t be considered shared if the wall is constructed completely on the land of just one of the properties, or a supporting beam is entirely in one of the buildings and not the other, or the plot that is enclosed by a fence or a hedge is beside an open one.

    Also, it is not shared if the wall is built straight on one side and on the other there is a buttress at the bottom or with a roof that overhangs the property on one side, or the wall has stones ( called pasaderas) that protrude from the wall on one side and not on the other.

    Each of the owners of the shared wall can build onto the shared wall and place beams in their half of the wall. Either owner can also increase the height or width of the wall from his or her own side. The co-owner can acquire rights to use the extended wall paying a proportion of the costs of the refurbishment.

    Take into account that the right is to increase the entire wall, so each of the owners must not increase only their own half, but the entire wall .


    When considering rights of access between plots, we can identify different situations:

  • There are rights of access that customarily have been agreed between neighbouring owners to allow them to work on land that was far from a public road. Each owner allowed a few metres (1-1.5) at the edge of their property for a path that, therefore, was 2 to 3 metres wide. If any owner wanted to enclose their property, they would leave that land out of the enclosure. This resulted in a shared ownership over that path, shared commonly by all owners so there was no single owner who suffered the burden of giving access and no single owner enjoying the sole right of use. All owners have the right of use and also the obligation to allow access.

    This is an old custom that is not ruled by law, called serventía. Today, as shared property continues, closing the path by any of the owners is unlawful, unfair, and claimable, if one of the owners closes the path denying access.

  • The most common right of access is that in which one of the plots suffer the burden and the other enjoys the right. This right can not be gained through use over time, no matter what visual evidence can be shown of that use. As no one person is walking constantly on the path there is no continual use and therefore the right is not gainable by time (prescripción).
  • If both plots once belonged to the same owner and then, one of them changes hands, the right of access will still remain if nothing is said in the transfer deed.
  • Apart from that, the right of access can be agreed between neighbours or can be imposed by one on another by law if the property is completely surrounded by others and without access to a public road.

    In order to do that, without the consent of the other parties, a court resolution must be reached after a claim that involves all the neighbours. This is to resolve which route is the easiest and the shortest way to reach a road, and therefore who is the owner who has to suffer the burden.
    The one who gains the right of access has to pay the other the price of the occupied surface area. That does not imply losing property, nor the right to use the land for other purposes. The owner will recover the complete freedom of their land if the access becomes unnecessary because the holder of the right can reach the road by other means.

  • If a plot is acquired ( by purchase, sharing out, exchange) and becomes surrounded by others belonging to the seller or the other party in the exchange, they are obliged to allow access through their plots without charge unless otherwise stated.
  • If a neighbour needs to pass through an adjacent property to make some refurbishment to their own property, or to install ladders, scaffolding or other objects for any works, the owner is obliged to consent to it, receiving some compensation for the damage. As simple as it sounds it quite often causes problems between neighbours and requires court action.


  • While an owner can gain access through neighbouring properties for the water they need on their property, this right does not exist for sewage so the owner would need to agree with the neighbours a means of evacuating the waste water or to resolve the issue by installing a septic tank on their own property. This is important when buying a plot in a rural area in order to build on it.
  • Regarding drinking water, an owner who wants to exercise right of access, must prove that they can dispose of the water ( by connecting to the public network, for example), that the access they ask for is the most convenient and the least problematic for the neighbour, and to indemnify the neighbour. Access through existing buildings, yards or gardens is excluded , but once the right is established, the owner who suffers the burden may build over the access, provided it does not cause any damage to the access nor make it impossible to clean or repair.
  • Regarding natural drainage of water, neither the owner of the higher land nor the owner of the lower land must do anything to stop or hinder it.
  • Regarding the water that falls from a building, the owner must build the roof so that none falls on the neighbouring land. However, if this right is agreed between the owners, the owner who suffers the burden can accept the waters onto their own roof, or channel it via another exit to the street.

    Only if the yard of a property is surrounded by neighbouring properties and there is not any other possible drainage can the owner ask to drain the rain water through the surrounding properties via the easiest drainage available, while indemnifying against any possible damages.


    No window can be installed on a property with direct views over a neighbouring property if there are fewer than two metres between the wall containing the window and the boundary of the neighbouring property.
    If there is a balcony or another kind of extension, the distance is measured from the edge of the balcony.
    Oblique views are also prohibited if there are fewer than sixty centimetres, measuring as before.
    An opening can be made to let in light provided that it does not allow views of the neighbouring property. The Civil code states this as the right to open a hole of 30cm x 30cm, directly below the roof, with an iron grill and wire netting. Actually what it means is that no disturbance can be caused to a neighbour. And the neighbour has the right to block any opening by building on his or her own property.

    These rules are from the Spanish Civil Code which was published in 1889, so windows existing before that date may not be affected by these measures.

    Nowadays, transparent brick is allowed to be used, so it forms a solid wall, and allows light to enter the building while blocking any possible views.

  • Adjoining plots’ owners can agree to the opening of windows by each other with the extension and effects agreed
  • Time does not grant the right to block a window

    .-If a window does not comply with the minimum distance it can always be blocked by the neighbour by building in front of it, because their plot is not affected by any burden in favour of adjoining plots.

    .-The neighbour’s window can also be closed by a court claim, without building in front of it, but some court resolutions state that in this case of a court claim to close the window, the maximum period for doing so is thirty years from the construction of the window.

  • The passing of time sometimes grants the right to maintain the window.

    -If the window is actually occupying the neighbour’s space, for example, if the window opens outwards over the neighbouring property or a balcony overhangs the adjoining property. In those cases, a period of twenty years can gain the right to keep the window.

    .-Also if there is a window for more than twenty years in a shared wall it is deemed to have been opened with the consent of both owners and will gain the right to remain.

    .-If the neighbouring owner forbids by means of a formal complaint to build in front of their windows and the recipient of the complaint takes no action, nor makes a court claim for twenty years, the complainant will gain the right to maintain the window.

  • If the building and the adjoining plot belonged to the same owner who opened the window, and then the adjoining property is sold without stating anything in the deed, the window will retain the right to be open.
  • When a right to build a window is gained ( by agreement between owners, by a period of time in those cases where it is possible, or because it was built by the same owner who subsequently sold the adjacent property), this right means that the neighbour can not build within three metres from the wall containing the window, unless otherwise agreed.
  • And it must be taken into account that any building activity requires planning permission and council rules can establish different measurements. Those distances and measurements can only be disputed by the neighbour objecting to the planning permission, a process which has its own rules and deadlines.


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