Experts shine a light on doubts over the legality of some of our everyday actions
Some legal experts argue that anything that is not specifically allowed is prohibited. Others say that everything that is not prohibited is permitted. Whichever side they take on that particular argument, most citizens are clear on one thing: ignorance of the law does not mean that you are exempt from it. The problem is that there are so many laws in Spain and they are so varied that sometimes it is not clear what can and cannot be done. To resolve these uncertainties, we’ve raised questions about the legality of some daily actions.
Can I walk around my house naked with the curtains open when there are neighbors who can see me?
The answer is a resounding yes. “The European Court of Human Rights has determined that liberty of expression includes nudity or the right to be nude even in public spaces,” explains lawyer Santiago Calvo, of Calvo Legal. Although there could be controversy over what constitutes a public space, “at home, which is a private space, this is a clear right,” concludes the lawyer.
Can I sell my old junk in front of my house, like they do in American movies?
According to the Communication Department at Madrid City Hall, yard sales are not allowed because they would violate the city ordinance that regulates street hawking. The rule is established in article 3, which states that that this type of business is only allowed “at street markets, for newspapers, or occasional single-use markets, or temporary enclaves on public streets for the sale of seasonal products or for those that are properly authorized.”
However, City Hall sources point out that sales could be made inside a house because it would not involve a public space. Here, however, the Tax Agency has something to say, given that any sale of second-hand products made by an individual is subject to income tax, provided that the sale price is higher than the purchase price.
Can I drink alcohol on the street?
In Madrid, at least, you cannot. According to article 30 section 3 of regional law 5/2002, “the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages is not allowed on public roads, except for terraces, bandstands, or on days of fiestas or similar celebrations that are regulated by the corresponding municipal ordinance.” However, the Madrid City Hall Communication Department states that “if it is just a beer, it is usually not worthy of complaint.” Why the exception? Administrative sanctions can’t be arbitrary. That is to say, they must be based on a rule. However, it is up to the relevant authority to assess whether to impose it or not.
Can I hang clothes out on my balcony?
Municipal regulations in Madrid establish that clotheslines, if they are hanging from a place of residence, must “have system in place that hinders view of the clothesline from the street or public spaces.” Valencia and Barcelona also do not permit clotheslines that face the street, a decision that some urban planners believe dehumanizes cities.
If I can’t hang clothes on my balcony, can I put out a flag?
If municipal codes do not allow you to hang clothes on the street, logically you cannot hang flags. However, while the laws mention laundry, they do not say anything about flags, and the Spanish legal system is not a huge fan of finding parallels. That’s to say, for judges, if something is not expressly prohibited, you cannot decide that it is by virtue of something similar being banned.
To settle these doubts, therefore, we must refer to the Horizontal Property Law 49/1960, which, in Article 7.2, states that “the owner and occupants of the apartment or premises are not allowed to carry out prohibited activities that are harmful to the property or that infringe on other general regulations covering activities that are annoying, unhealthy, harmful, dangerous or illegal in the apartment or on the rest of the property.” If these activities take place, “the president of the residents’ association, on their own initiative, or any of the proprietors or occupants, can require […] the immediate cessation of the same, under the warning of initiating legal proceedings.” That is to say, everything related to flags resides in the hands of the residents’ association and its statutes.
Can I play music at any time of the day?
The key to resolving this question lies with the volume of the music. In the case of Madrid, the parameters are detailed in the Ordinance for the Protection against Acoustic and Thermal Pollution of 2011, which states that the “owners or users of radio, television, musical equipment, household appliances, air conditioners, or musical instruments and, in general, any sound source of a domestic nature, must make sure that their equipment is installed and adjusted for use so that their operation complies with the limitations established in articles 15 and 16 of this ordinance, in order to not disturb good co-existence.” Therefore, if the limits established in these articles are not exceeded, there is no problem.
Can I put furniture together during siesta time?
In Madrid, provided that it does not exceed the limits established in articles 15 and 16 of the Ordinance for Protection against Acoustic and Thermal Pollution of 2011, you can. Since one of the objectives for the regulation is to protect residents’ rest time and foster good co-existence, common sense is key to interpreting this rule. In other words, putting furniture together during siesta time might be protected by law, but it is not forgiven by God.
Can I spit or urinate on the street?
Municipal rules are very clear on this topic. “You cannot.” In Madrid’s case, you are not permitted to urinate nor spit nor “satisfy physiological needs on public roads or any other space other than those that are expressly intended for that purpose.” This is stipulated in article 14, point H of the Ordinance for the Cleaning of Public spaces and Waste Management, although Madrid City Hall’s Communication Department warns that, as in the case of alcohol consumption, if there is a justifiable complaint, the punishment is left in the hands of the authorities.
Can I smoke inside a private car with children inside?
In the opinion of Santiago Calvo, “yes you can, but…” That “but” is due to the Royal Legislative Decree 6/2015, which approves the consolidated text of Traffic Law, Motor Vehicles and Road Safety. In article 13, the royal decree states that “the driver must be in a position to control the vehicle at all times” and “maintain their own freedom of movement.” Therefore, if it is understood that the action of smoking does not jeopardize the control of the vehicle or the freedom of movement, you can smoke in the presence of children – even if you’re behind the wheel of a Mini.
This is striking because tobacco is not mentioned in article 14 of Royal Legislative Decree 6/2015 as one of the substances under the influence of which it is not possible to drive, nor does the law 42/2010 of sanitary measures against smoking and regulations on the sale, supply consumption and advertising of tobacco products prohibit smoking in a car with children, although it does expressly state that smoking near parks or schools is not allowed.
Can I drive wearing flip-flops?
Last summer, Spain’s DGT traffic authority and the Civil Guard addressed this issue on their Twitter profiles. In one message, the DGT wrote: “You’ve asked us again so we’re telling you again: driving in flip-flops is not punishable unless it affects the safety of the driving in some way, for an example not letting you control the pedals.” The reason for this is the same law that allows or limits smoking in the car, the Royal Legislative Decree 6/2015, which punishes those situations in which the driver is not in a position to control the vehicle or cannot maintain freedom of movement.
Can I share Wi-Fi with a neighbor? Or my subscription to a streaming platform?
“Can you create Wi-Fi zones with your cellphone so that others can access the internet?” asks Santiago Calvo. Because the answer is yes, in the opinion of the lawyer “the same can be done with the domestic Wi-Fi password unless otherwise stated in the contract, which would be debatable. In the case of subscriptions to streaming platforms, I also don’t see why it cannot be done. In fact, Netflix allows users to log in regardless of their location.” Netflix announced a few months ago that they would not stop users from sharing their log-in and password.
English version by Nell Snow.