Illegal property occupation in Spain


Squatters, known as okupas in Spain, are individuals who occupy a property without the owner’s consent. This movement and the actions of squatters have become a topic of debate and concern in Spain in recent years. Every year, around 15,000 to 17,000 apartments are occupied illegally, with a significant majority (43%) located in Barcelona and nearby areas. Valencia and Andalusia are also common areas where apartment reservations occur. As a result, landlords are hesitant to rent their properties, fearing that tenants may not pay rent and refuse to leave. Therefore, landlords often demand half a year or even a year’s rent in advance from tenants.

This article seeks to provide a better understanding of squatting in Spain, including its background, frequency, and how to prevent it. We will also provide legal and practical advice on how to handle such situations and remove uninvited “guests”.

THE ORIGINI OF “OKUPA” IN SPAIN

The occupation movement, which is also known as the “okupa” movement, has a long history in Spain. It dates back to the mid-20th century, when some young activist groups began occupying vacant buildings to protest against the housing problems and economic inequality. The Occupy movement grew rapidly and continues to exist in the 21st century. Interestingly, in the Spanish language, the letter “k” is almost never used, but in the word “okupa”, it is used exceptionally. This symbolizes a kind of rebellion, promoting deviation from the traditional ways.

BACKGROUND AND REASONS

There can be several reasons behind occupations, including housing problems, economic difficulties, and protest and activism. In Spain, many people are unable to live in normal conditions due to the high rent prices and lack of affordable housing. Since the economic crisis of 2008, many people have lost their jobs and are struggling financially. For some, the only way to obtain free housing is to move into abandoned properties. Occupations are not only on the rise due to housing problems but also serve as a means to convey social and political messages. For instance, the Occupy movement was created as a protest against state real estate policies and speculation.

RESIDENTS IN SPAIN – THE NUMBERS

According to the latest data published by the ministry for the year 2022, analyzing the first seven months of the year, Valencia has seen a 23% increase in apartment bookings, while the Community of Madrid has experienced a 15% decrease. In Andalucia, the highest number of apartment bookings is in Seville, Cádiz, Malaga, Casares, and Manilva.

There are two models in place to deal with foreclosures. One model is permissive, and the other is protective of private property. The latter model is aimed at protecting the victims of foreclosures, primarily families and small savers who own their homes and whose rights are often violated. The issue of apartment reservations sends a negative message to the market, especially to the victims of foreclosures, who are typically Spanish families.

LEGAL BACKGROUND

Firstly, it is important to note that taking possession of a property against the owner’s will is punishable under the Spanish Penal Code, regardless of whether it was obtained by force or not. There is a penalty for such an act.

Secondly, we need to differentiate between two types of crimes: burglary (Article 202 of the Codigo Penal) and trespassing (Article 245 of the Codigo Penal). The difference between the two lies in what the law protects. In burglary, the victim’s home, the place where the victim lives their daily life, is protected. In contrast, trespassing protects the property right. This is typically the case for abandoned, empty, under renovation or construction houses or flats where the owner does not live.

The main difference between an “occupier” and a “non-paying tenant” is that the former takes possession of the property illegally, while the latter does so with the landlord’s consent and within the framework of a contractual relationship.

Therefore, if a tenant is not paying rent, the landlord can evict them through civil jurisdiction and based on breach of contract. On the other hand, when dealing with an “occupier of an apartment”, it is preferable to apply the criminal procedure, although we must distinguish between the crime of burglary and trespassing. In the former, the tenant illegally enters the property which constitutes the family home, and in the latter, the tenant moves into a place other than the family home or the family’s usual or permanent residence.

Carlos Hering – Lawyer

YOU MUST REACT IMMEDIATELY, OTHERWISE THE CASE MAY BE DRAGGED

It is important to call the police as soon as possible if you find that someone has occupied your property without your permission. According to the law published in the official gazette in May 2018, you must file a report within 48 hours of taking possession. Failure to do so may result in the occupied apartment being considered as the squatter’s home, and any entry will be considered as burglary instead of trespassing. Squatters are often aware of this law and may order food or keep a low profile to avoid being caught. If the owner notices that strangers are living in the property only after a few days, it might be challenging to evict the squatter without legal proceedings.

In some cases, property owners rent out their properties to tenants who later stop paying rent. This situation is quite common and can lead to landlords asking tenants to pay several months in advance or even half a year’s rent. They may also try to shift the commission payment onto the tenant. These practices have made it challenging to find a property for rent, and the prices have gone up significantly in recent years.

HOW CAN YOU DEFEND AGAINST UNIVITED GUESTS?

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If you’re looking for a high level of security for your property, there are several options available to you. You can install alarms that are connected to an alarm receiving center. This type of alarm system is extremely effective because there is always a special team to receive and handle alarms. If you would like to request a quote for the installation of this type of alarm system, our colleagues will connect you with reliable service providers.

Another option is to reinforce your doors with special anti-burglary locks, which are designed to prevent penetration and make your door impermeable from the outside. These locks typically cost around €1,000 and are mounted on the door frame to provide added protection.

You can also install grilles or window guards on your windows to prevent entry from the outside. By reinforcing your windows with bars or window grills, you can make it impossible for anyone to break in.

Maintaining a well-kept garden can also help to deter potential burglars. A property with a well-maintained garden and well-kept bushes and plants is less likely to be targeted by thieves.

Finally, it’s important to ensure that your mailbox is constantly being emptied. If your mailbox is overflowing with letters and advertising materials, it can be a sign that no one has been there for a while. This can make your property more attractive to potential burglars.

If you ever need help dealing with uninvited guests on your property, there are several businesses that offer this service. These companies can help negotiate with the occupier and demonstrate strength to ensure that unwanted guests leave as soon as possible. One such company is the anti-occupier group, which employs several Hungarian compatriots.

HOW TO GET RID OF OKUPAS?

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Evicting an illegal tenant through litigation is the legal method. Lawyers often promise to get it done within six months, but in reality, it can take up to three years with no end in sight. If the tenant has a minor child living with them, the court will issue the eviction order slowly, granting the occupant more reprieve. The other method to extend litigation is to cite health reasons. If the resident and hospital reports prove that the tenant cannot be put on the street due to their health condition, the process will be prolonged. There was even a case where a tenant received a grace period due to breast augmentation surgery.

To expedite the process, many owners offer money to the tenant to leave. This amount is usually around €10,000 on average. Squatter mafias generate significant income by moving squatters into apartments and negotiating the amount after a few months. It is important to note that illegal tenants are not always homeless and unfortunate individuals. Some drive Porsches and spend thousands of euros per month but do not legally reside in luxury villas.

An owner took a different approach: Instead of going through the legal battle, he hired a skilled locksmith to break the lock and replace it once the tenant left home. He then put the squatter’s belongings in trash bags and left them on the street next to the trash can. With the title deed, he waited to see if the tenant would dare to return. If they did, he would call the police and file a burglary report. The delinquent in this case did not even try to return.