Home » Catalan property sector decries the region’s squatter problem, in a league of its own as political group publishes a ‘Squatter’s Handbook’

Catalan property sector decries the region’s squatter problem, in a league of its own as political group publishes a ‘Squatter’s Handbook’

‘Squat and Resist’ graffiti in Barcelona

As the youth wing of one of Catalonia’s political parties publishes a ‘Squatter’s Handbook’, the region’s leading real estate associations release a joint statement decrying the damage done by official permissiveness towards squatting in the region.

Spain has a growing problem with squatters, but Catalonia is in a league of its own. The number of squatter invasions relative to population is off the charts compared to other regions of Spain. So much so that the leading trade associations of the Catalan real estate sector have taken the unprecedented step of issuing a joint statement to raise the alarm, and point the finger of blame at the public administration. 

“We believe that the public bodies that represent the companies and professionals of our sector cannot remain impassive in the face of the serious harm being done to owners, residents associations, neighbourhoods, and society in general by every more alarming facts and, therefore, we believe it necessary to call on the authorities to act in defense of the law, and in defence of the common interest,” declares the statement, published on Monday.

The statement cites official statistics from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, and compares the level of squatter occupations in the three most populous regions of Spain: Andalusia, Madrid, and Catalonia.

In terms of the number of incidents of squatting reported to the police per 10,000 inhabitants, the problem increased by 23% in Andalusia between 2015 and 2019, went down by 15% in Madrid, and up by 66% in Catalonia to 8.71 cases per 10,000 inhabitants, leaving it the region with the biggest problem by far.

The problem is so bad in Catalonia that squatting offences relative to population are 190% higher than in Andalusia, the region with the second biggest problem, and almost 24 times higher than in La Rioja, the region with the smallest problem.

In trying to explain why the squatting problem is so bad in Catalonia, the statement look at employment levels in Andalusia, Madrid, and Barcelona – the Catalan capital – to see if economic hardship can help explain the difference. 

It reveals that the job market has performed significantly better in Catalonia between 2015 and 2019 than the other regions, suggesting that economic hardship is not the driving force behind the surge in squatting in Catalonia. 

“It’s clear that the economic improvement in Catalonia, and the fall in unemployment has not reduced the number of cases of illegal occupation [squatting] reported to the police, which has kept on growing,” says the statement.

The real reason why Catalonia has such an out-of-control problem with squatters is political, they argue. “The explanation can be found in the encouragement of illegal occupation [squatting] by some political parties, and the greater permissiveness of the public administration in Catalonia facing the difficulty of housing families, and demagogic measures of housing policy that are ineffective and underfunded.”

They point out that the public administration in Catalonia has washed its hands of trying to provide housing for those in need, and dumped the burden on private property owners without even letting them charge a rent that covers their costs, whilst at the same time threatening them with exorbitant and coercive fines.

“No other country in the EU has legislation that implies the legalisation of squatting,” they lament.

Squatter’s Handbook

The signatories of the statement are particularly incensed by the recent publication of a ‘Squatter’s Handbook’ or Llibret d’Okupació in Catalan, published by ARRAN – the radical youth wing of the hard-left CUP party that is currently negotiating the formation of the next government of Catalonia.

This ebook by the self-styled ‘Youth Organisation of the Pro-Independence Left’ contains 100 pages of tips, guides, case studies, and legal advice on how to break into private property, rig up illegal connections to utilities, tamper with the meters, and avoid eviction. There’s also an introduction of ‘political reflections’ on how and why to use squatting as part of the wider struggle to bring down the system.

As none of the Catalan parties in power have condemned the publication of this handbook, the statement’s signatories, including real estate associations such as the Catalan Association of Building Administrators, the Real Estate Agents Association, and the Developers’ Association of Catalonia, have filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor against the sponsors of a text that publicly incites criminal activity, which they argue is a crime according to article 18 of Spain’s penal code.

The statement by the real estate associations only refers to official figures for reported squats, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many victims, perhaps even a majority, do not report squatters to the police, because once squatters are installed, the official process of getting them out can be ruinous for owners, who are better off paying the squatters extortion money to leave, or using other private strategies.

In Spain, if you go to the police once squatters are installed (some say after 48 hours of entry, others say after jus 24 hours), it can take years, and cost many thousands of Euros to evict them and recover possession, not to mention the personal cost in time and emotions such as anger, stress, frustration and worry. The cost of dealing with squatters in Spain enables squatter mafias to extort money from owners, so it is understandable that many victims don’t go to the police, and the real problem of adverse possession is likely to be higher than the official figures suggest.

The real estate sector associations who have published this statement clearly feel the squatter situation in Catalonia has become so bad they have no choice but to raise the alarm, at the risk of enraging the politicians who call the shots in Catalonia. 

Essentially they are arguing the official attitude towards squatting helps explain why the problem is going down in the region of Madrid, and exploding in Catalonia. They don’t mention that Madrid is run by the right, whilst Catalonia is run by separatists and leftists. Perhaps better left unsaid. 

In fact, three weeks after inconclusive regional elections, Catalonia is currently run by a caretaker coalition of separatist and left-wing parties who are negotiating the next government, which, just like the last one, that even they agree was a failure, will be either separatist, or leftist, or both. It is likely that, once again, the radical-left CUP party will hold the key to the next Catalan government, and do everything in its power to empower squatters, and undermine the forces of law and order.

If anything, the level of squatting is only going to increase in Catalonia. 

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