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Part 3: Buying a ruin and rebuilding it as a guesthouse

Anyone who has bought property in Spain and has tried to convert or add on (be it only one wall) and to do so legally will doubtless have had the same experience. If I add to this the fact that my house, and later the next door guesthouse, is built partly into the 12th century walls of Tarifa, you can imagine the complications of negotiating your way through the regulations of the Bellas Artes de Cadiz, the equivalent of the National Trust.

You are faced with an intricate web of bureaucracy and it is only who you know, and not what you know, that can speed up the procedure. You will get nowhere without a local architect and a local, well connected, lawyer. Changing your garage door to an overhead door demands a permit, which comes with the incomprehensible specification that it has to be real wood (far too heavy for an overhead, electrically operated door, the eventual builder of the door told me). I did as I was told, no-one ever checked, and I pay regular bills for repairs to the electrical installation.

Repainting the end wall necessitated the employment of an archaeologist at vast expense to check there is not a single stone of the original wall underneath. We paid the archaeologist who had been recommended to us by the Town Hall. He then disappeared into thin air, which again delayed the whole procedure.

The euphoria of finishing the roof and enjoying a party with all your builders soon wears off when you are once again faced with further massive, turgid bureaucracy to get all the licences you need. I was thrilled when the final inspection had taken place and I got my opening licence (Apartamentos Turisticos) for Dar Cilla in the year 2002 from the appropriate Tourist Authority in Cadiz. Little could I have imagined the problems that would arise only a few years later when on applying to the local Tarifa authorities for a licence to repair the roof (idiot that I was, everyone told me, ‘ you just do this over a weekend’ ...) I was told I did not have the appropriate licence from them to run a guesthouse – of little relevance was the fact that I had from the beginning been sending them all the required information on my guests, copies of passports etc. and paying all due taxes. No-one had told me I also needed a licence from the Tarifa Town Hall. This opened a can of worms, as their norms were different from those of Cadiz, and (just to give one example) two of my kitchens were deemed to be 60 cms too near the bathrooms so had to be knocked out entirely, and the space re-designed. Norms for electricity had changed since obtaining my initial permits from Cadiz, so only seven years later all the electricity had to be renewed at vast cost. New rules for the accommodation of invalids had been introduced . I hadn’t even got round to discussing the roof, which was my original reason for applying for a licence from the Town Hall!

As of writing this article, I am two years further, and - once the new fire doors have been installed, being done as I write - I have met every possible demand from the local authorities before having yet another inspection and, hopefully, getting my licence. However, experience has taught me that a new broom sweeps clean, so as some years have passed, who knows what a new inspector will find in the small print.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am happy to do everything legally which I understand is somewhat of an exception. I was told by many that it was cheaper to do things illegally and pay an eventual fine than to go through the never-ending procedure to get a licence. Be that as it may, it is not my way of working. I have not paid anything ‘under the counter’. However, when you try to do everything legally the delays are almost insuperable (in the meantime your business is nearly bankrupt) which is why so many are driven to rebuilding illegally ‘behind closed doors’. After months of waiting, we were able to hang our Licencia de Obras on the scaffolding, something you don’t see often around here, with due pride.

I am a female senior citizen on my own, I am a foreigner (albeit a long-time resident of Tarifa/Spain) and I want everything to be in order, but it has been an indescribable hassle which I could only surmount because my General Manager speaks fluent Spanish and is as dedicated to perfection as I am.

There are certainly days when we ask ourselves ‘We ARE enjoying it, aren’t we?’. I have always proclaimed that when it is no long fun I shall stop doing it, but I’m not sure that ‘stopping’ is any easier than starting. That will be another chapter in years to come.

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