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How to check your vacation apartment is not Illegal in Barcelona

11th July 2017

Looking to rent a legal apartment in Barcelona?

There are around 17,000 holiday apartments in Barcelona — of which 7,000 are unlicensed and therefore illegal.

Problem is — how to tell a legal vacation apartment from an illegal one?

​In this post I'm not going to go into all the whys and wherefores of the resident/visitor housing situation in the city.

This post is solely concerned with giving practical advice on how to check the legal status of a vacation rental property, and is offered in good faith — you should consult a competent solicitor/lawyer should you wish to seek compensation for damages resulting from illegal activity.

Let's be clear, the City's housing inspectors are not going to evict or forcibly remove you from your apartment in the​ early hours of the morning if they find that the apartment you have rented is not licensed. However… with a little diligence you can avoid any unpleasantness and upsetting your holiday plans.

​Buyer Beware

In 2016 the City Council fined Airbnb a total of 600,000 for continuing to list unlicensed properties.

Obviously Airbnb is not the only offender, but the most high-profile.

[If interested in the ongoing wrangle between Airbnb and Barcelona City Council SEE this update as at May 31, 2018.]

As with every pricey transaction it pays to read the description carefully AND the details of the person letting the property. You may believe the person letting the apartment is an honest individual, but click around a bit, tedious I know, but if you see the same name and contact details appear for another property, or several properties, then chances are you could be looking at dealing with a property speculator or unofficial agency.

While searching for an Airbnb flat for my sister a couple of years ago I found one individual who had 7 properties listed. Such is not uncommon.

The listing may give a licence number — sometimes referred to as a HUTB. But how do you know this number is for real, and not invented? (This is one of the excuses Airbnb gives — it says it does not have the resources to check the accuracy of the information given. Pretty lame — if they don't have the resources to play then they shouldn't be in the game.)

OK. You've done the basic checks — you're reasonably confident all is in order. You confirm a deal.​

As with every pricey transaction it can pay to read the paperwork. 

A big clue in the paperwork that the property you are renting may not be li​censed:

  • Does the amount you are being asked to pay include Tourist Tax? If so, how much?
    • As of April 2017 the Tourist Tax, charged per person aged 17 and older, is 2,25€ plus IVA (VAT) = 2,475€ per night, but limited to a MAXIMUM amount equivalent to 7 nights' stay, i.e. 17,325€ per person.
  • IF there is no itemised amount shown for Tourist Tax then it is likely the apartment is unlicensed.
  • IF the itemised amount shown for Tourist Tax does not compute correctly then… you need to contest it.

Introducing the Flat Detector

In a previous post (12 Sinister Symbols & Ciphers in Barcelona) I strongly suggested that you check the legal status of any and all apartments you may  be interested in renting before you agree any deal with an owner or agency.

Easy said — a little tricky in practice.​

How do you check the legal status of a holiday let in Barcelona?

​Before you sign off on any deal with a private owner or lettings agency you can run the address of the  accommodation through the Ajuntament's (City Hall) 'Flat Detector'.

However, most Airbnb listings, for example, do not give the address of the accommodation — you'll have to ask the owner or agency for the precise address.​

They may tell you that for security reasons that cannot give you the precise address until you have confirmed your booking. If so, ask them for the licence number of the property.

If they refuse to co-operate — then, it's likely they have something to hide.

If you look at Airbnb listings you'll see that many owners (though not yet the majority) give the licence number in their listings.

If you do have the correct and precise address of the apartment you're thinking of renting then:

​GO HERE: or copy and paste this link into your browser:

This will bring up this page:​

Enter the address details and hit Search.

Should be straightforward. However, in the first box — Type of road — when you scroll through the dropdown list there are 16 options:

Which is where it becomes a little more complicated than it need be.

Firstly, as a would-be first-time visitor it's unlikely that you'll know what these abbreviations signify. As a regular visitor you'll probably struggle. 

I've lived here 15 years and had to check the difference between TRVS and TRAV, and look up CSTA.

If you have the property address in writing then you should be ok — just copy the address into the boxes​.

Be especailly careful when entering floor and apart​ment numbers. For example, say the address of the apartment you want to check is: Carrer de Sobeit, 56, 3-4 meaning, building number 56, 3rd floor, door number 4. If you transpose these last numbers to 4-3 then you will not receive the correct information. It may be the case that flat numbered 3-4 IS legal but that flat number 4-3 is not a vacation let and is not listed.

AV​ — Avinguda​ — as in Avinguda Paral·lel

​​BDA — Baixada — as in Baixada de Can Braso

C — Carrer — as in Carrer de Córsega — usually written as C/

CSTA— Costa — as in Costa del Bruc 

CTRA — Carretera — as in Carretera Antiga d'Horta

G.V. — Gran Via — as in Gran Via de les Cortes Catalanes 

PG — Passeig — as in Passeig de Sant Joan — sometimes written as Psg. 

PL — Plaça — as in Plaça de Catalunya

PLA — Plaçeta — as in Plaçeta de Sant Miquel 

PTGE — ​Passatge — as in Passatge de Maluquer

RBLA — Rambla — as in Rambla de Poble Nou

RDA — Ronda — as in Ronda de Dalt

RIER — Riera — as in Riera de Vallvidrera

​​TRAV — Travessia — as in Travessia de Sant Antoni

TRVS — Travessera — as in Travessera de Gràcia

VIA — Via — as in Via Laietana

If you succeed on entering the address correctly​ then a pop-up box will tell you that it isn't listed or that it is. Trouble is the pop-up is in català. But I think you'll get the drift.

What do you do if the accommodation isn't listed as being licensed?​

If you run a check and find the accommodation is NOT listed then you can report it by clicking on the 'Let us know about it' button — and this is where it gets more complicated than it needs be. 

When you enter the street name a dropdown box lists 67 options in castellà (Spanish), not català:

​Confusing? Yes, a little. But worth a try if you have the time and patience.


    • Try to get the corrrect and full address (in Català) of the apartment you intend to rent BEFORE you confirm the deal.
    • Run the address through the City Council's Flat Detector HERE.
    • IF the address comes up as NOT being licensed go back to the owner or agency and query it.
    • IF you have already rented an apartment before running a check then scan the documentation and contract, attach the scans to an email and send them  to your and/or your travelling companion's email address. This will ensure, if you're not taking a laptop or tablet on vacation, that the contract is available on your phone.
    • IF you have rented an apartment and then, upon arrival, you suspect that the apartment is not legally licensed then run the address through the Flat Detector as above.
    • IF, on arrival, you do not see a notice on or near the door to the apartment which gives neighbours, and inspectors, information about who to contact should any problems arise during your stay then you should question it.
    • IF the address comes up as NOT being licensed then go back to the owner and query it.
    • IF you do not receive a convincing or satisfactory explanation as to why the apartment isn't listed then complete the form, as shown in the section above titled: Let us know about it.  HERE
    • Locate the scanned contract on your phone and upload it to the form.

Enjoy your stay in Barcelona.

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