The Spanish government’s coronavirus ban on evictions has been extended to May 2021, with conditions to prevent squatters taking advantage of the ban. But it’s still not hard to imagine squatter mafias continuing to exploit the ban to extort money from owners, as they have been gaily doing so far.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Spanish government suspended all evictions back in March, with the good intention of preventing families being turfed out of their homes through no fault of their own.
The government in Madrid, a left-wing coalition between the Socialists and the hard-left Podemos party, have been arguing over how long to extend the ban, which was originally due to expire this year. Podemos were pushing for a blanket ban lasting until the end of 2022, but now it appears the Socialists won their battle to limit the ban to the current ‘State of Alarm’, due to expire on the 9th of May 2021.
The decree extending and clarifying the eviction ban was published in the official gazette yesterday morning. The focus is on protecting vulnerable families with no ‘decent housing’ alternatives from being evicted, due to economic hardship leaving them unable to pay the rent or mortgage. Owners with 10 or more properties are expected to shoulder the biggest cost of the ban on the landlord side, but even they are now given a formula to claim some compensation from the government for lost rental income, which is an improvement on the previous decree.
Unlike the previous version, the new decree makes clear that squatters occupying homes and second homes will not be protected by the ban, even if those homes are rented. So if you own or rent a second home in Spain, and squatters get in, this decree does not protect them from eviction, in theory at least.
The eviction ban also does not apply in cases of criminal entry (“Cuando la entrada o permanencia en el inmueble sea consecuencia de delito”) or if property is then used for criminal activities (“para la realización de actividades ilícitas”), or to any case of squatting where entry has taken place after the date of publication of the decree (23rd of December 2020).
The new decree will “motivate a housing response without harming owners,” claims Socialist Minister José Luis Ábalos, whose ministry includes the housing department.
Too little too late
Critics point out that it’s too little too late, and has already devastated small-scale landlords, without compensation. The ASVAL Landlords Association says the bureaucratic process is open to abuse, and will encourage squatters in the knowledge that any eviction process can now be delayed. “With this royal decree Spain becomes the exception in Europe, as the only country to legalise squatting, which is actually a crime according to our civil code.”
Property-portfolio investors say they agree that vulnerable families should be protected under the current circumstances, but argue that banning evictions “will encourage squatting because it will [also] paralyse the eviction of people without a rental contract or property title who are illegally occupying the property of a large-scale property owner,” according to sources at the Spanish paper El Economista. “This leaves property owners defenseless against issues like squatting.”
Eviction ban helps Squatter mafias extort owners
Despite the decree’s good intentions to protect vulnerable families from eviction, compensate landlords in bona fide cases, and deny squatters protection from eviction, it’s not hard to see how this new decree will continue to help squatter mafias extort money from owners.
The eviction ban introduces another bureaucratic procedure that squatter mafias will know how to exploit to their advantage, as they run rings around a plodding administration. More bureaucracy means higher costs for owners – more time, energy, and money trying to protect one of their most valuable assets. The already high cost of evicting squatters in Spain, and lack of protection from the State, lies at the heart of the extortion racket. If squatters get in and make themselves at home, the cost of evicting them through the courts can be ruinous, so you can be forgiven for paying them to leave, which is exactly what they want. The eviction ban just puts them in a stronger position, however much the fine print insists it is protecting owners from squatters.
Keep an eye on your property in Spain
What is clear is that, now more than ever, owners should keep an eye on their property in Spain to reduce the threat of extortion from squatter mafias. Leave them undisturbed for 48 hours, and give them time to make themselves at home in your property, and squatter mafias have you over a barrel. If you know what’s going on and react quickly, you have more options.