The problem of home invaders, most typical of all EU countries in Spain, continues to worry local property owners. Despite all the attempts of political parties, public organizations and individuals to change the existing order of things, “okupas” continue to feel like full owners – both of other people’s housing and of the entire situation as a whole.
According to ABC, 80% of homeowners in Spain fear that uninvited guests may move into their apartment or house. And these are citizens of the country or its residents, who, to one degree or another, have the opportunity to control the development of events. What then can we say about foreigners who own so-called “vacation property” in Spain, where they live for at most a few months a year, and the rest of the time it sits empty and often without any supervision.
The situation is further aggravated by the fact that only 24 hours from the moment they seize the property are allotted for the eviction of the “okupas” with the help of the police. During this time, the owner must have time to contact the nearest branch with a corresponding application and confirm his ownership. Otherwise, the problem will be resolved through litigation, which sometimes drags on for years. All this time, the property owner will have to pay bills for electricity and water, which he has no right to turn off – as well as try to regain his home by force, even if it is his only one.
An alternative option is companies that deal with evictions “okupas” without involving the authorities – such as Desokupa or Zero Konflictos. Although they act on the verge of a foul, they act within the framework of the law, solving the problem as quickly as possible (sometimes a single visit is enough). Another thing is that their services are not cheap, and those who want to use them will have to wait in line.
The problem of “occupancy” is most acute in Catalonia, where 5,689 properties were seized between January and September last year (13,389 throughout Spain). During the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of occupation of commercial premises, many of which were closed or left without bankrupt tenants. This practice is especially widespread in Barcelona, where out of 30.5 thousand empty premises, approximately 20% of the okupas are occupied.
In total, there are now about 120 thousand unauthorized occupied objects in Spain, of which more than 40% are in Catalonia. This is 4 times more than in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, 3 times more than in Andalusia and much more than in the Valencian Community, Castile-La Mancha and Murcia, whose residents are also more likely than others to suffer from this phenomenon.
It is no coincidence that it was in Catalonia that the first attempt was recently made to end housing occupations at the legislative level, giving the police the power to evict “occupas” at any time. However, the bill proposed by the Vox party was successfully blocked by the ruling Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC), with the support of other leftist and separatist parties. In fact, the authorities took the side of the criminals, who feel so at ease here that they even created their own… trade union.
In March, the same coalition passed the more controversial law Ley 1/2022, also called Ley Antidesahucios (“Law against evictions”). According to one of its provisions, large property owners (at least 15 properties for individuals and 10 for legal entities) cannot evict “okupas”, but must transfer the seized housing to them for so-called “social rent” for a long period. In the case of individuals, this period is 5 years, for legal entities – 7 years, and for banks and investment funds – 12 years.
In the Autonomous Community of Madrid, where the seizure of real estate is also a fairly common phenomenon, the scale of which increased by 25% in 2022 (especially in the suburbs of the capital), on the contrary, they are going to move to more drastic measures. In particular, it is planned to increase the period for immediate eviction to 48 hours if the occupiers do not present any document confirming the owners’ consent to their accommodation. Previously, homeowners had to demonstrate proof of ownership, which was very difficult (usually all documentation is kept at home), but now local authorities want “okupas” to prove their innocence.
The government of this autonomy is confident that the existing order of things not only directly violates one of the fundamental human rights – the right to private property, but also causes serious material and moral damage to the owner. In addition to paying for the services of a lawyer and utility bills for the “payback” for 3-6 months in the best case, very often it is necessary to make expensive repairs. As shown by a study conducted by the leading network of real estate agencies Alfa Inmobiliaria, the owners of seized properties (mostly inherited) are ready to sell them at a 30% discount just to get rid of the headache. However, even in this case, it will be very difficult to do this for a number of obvious reasons, and, as practice shows, you have to wait on average 10 months for a miracle.