Adverse possession, better known as squatting, just keeps rising in Spain, partly due to the economic crisis brought on by Covid-19, and partly due to the political indulgence of squatters by left wing parties in power, in Catalonia more than anywhere.
You know there’s a problem with squatters in Spain when one of the biggest advertisers on radio and TV is a security company selling alarms to protect your home from squatters, known in Spanish as okupas, when you are away on holiday.
And every year in September, there are shocking stories in the local press of families returning from their summer holiday to find their homes occupied by squatters. They then have to go and live with family, friends, or in a hotel, for a year or more whilst they shoulder the extra cost of accommodation and legal proceedings to get the squatters out. There are even stories of healthcare workers losing their homes to squatters after an extended absence from home on the front-line of the battle with Covid-19. However, I suspect these cases of primary residencies being occupied are very uncommon, as the forces of law and order tend to move more quickly against them, making them unattractive targets for squatters.
Along with bank repos, and badly managed council housing, the problem of adverse possession is reportedly growing fastest in second homes and holiday homes on the coast, which are easier to occupy, with less push-back from the law. Though Barcelona is the squatter / okupa hotspot of Spain, holiday-homes all over the Spanish coast are reported to have a growing problem of mafia-driven extortion rackets using squatters as bargaining chips to extract hefty payoffs from owners. Squatters hold your property to ransom, and you have to pay them off to get it back.
Official figures just published bear witness to the growing problem. In the first half of 2020 there were 7,450 new cases of adverse possession reported to the police, compared to 7,093 in the same period last year, an increase of 5%. Between 2018 and 2019 the number of cases of adverse possession reported to the authorities grew from 12,214 to 14,621, an increase of 20%, according to data from the Spanish Home Office (Interior Ministry).
The same data makes clear the problem is biggest in Catalonia, with 49% of new cases in the first half of this year, but it is also a problem in Andalusia and other regions with a significant number of holiday homes like the Valencian region and Murcia. But, it seems that in areas where the regional government is run by right-wing parties less indulgent of squatters, like Madrid and Andalusia, the number of cases of squatters has declined slightly this year.
Why are squatters such a big problem in Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular?
Left wing parties tend to be more indulgent of squatters, and the further left you go, the stronger the support for squatters against evil capitalist property owners. In Catalonia, the regional government is dependent upon the hard left to keep it in power as it pursues its pipe-dream of independence from Spain, and Barcelona City Hall is run by a former squatter activist called Ada Colau, who supports, and uses public money to subsidise, squatter-friendly activist groups like the PAH and Sindicat de Llogateres.
With the local and regional authorities either lukewarm about protecting owners, or firmly on the side of squatters, the local police forces under their control are hardly going to stick their necks out to protect the rights of property property owners without political support. So the front-line forces of law and order would rather leave it to the courts to sort out, where the process of evicting squatters / okupas can take months or years. That all works handily in favour of squatters, and the mafias that control many of them, who take full advantage of it in Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular.
As a result, I expect the problem of squatting to get worse in Catalonia, until there is a change of government and law, which could take years, if it ever happens.
I also expect more and more holiday-home owners to find their properties turned into squats, as absentee owners are such an easy target for mafia-run extortion rackets using squatters to extort payoffs from owners.