If squatters get in, you need to respond fast

squatters in Spain
Squatters changing the building lock after breaking in and holding a property for ransom

If you can’t stop squatter extortion gangs getting in, at the very least you need to know about it quickly in order to respond effectively. Once the squatters are in you need to contact the police fast to minimise the risk of extortion. 

I heard an interesting story the other day about the effective way a pija (uptown girl) deals with squatters when they get into one of her rental portfolio properties in Barcelona. Apparently she has properties in the Old Town where squatting is rampant, and squatters have invaded on more than one occasion.

I’m not sure how true this story is, but even if it’s only partly true, it makes a good point about the importance of possession when the police arrive. Possession in this case means who is inside of the property, not who owns the title deeds.

According to the story, this lady looks very unthreatening. She is petite, feminine, and smartly dressed – the opposite of the muscle-bound, tattooed heavies who offer to get squatters out for a fee.

Apparently she just marches up to the front door, and asks to speak to the okupas, as squatters are known in Spain. As she seems so nonthreatening they let her in to negotiate and, once inside, she whips a mace gun out of her Gucci handbag and maces them all in the face before they know what’s hit them. She then has them dragged out by some muscle she had waiting out of sight, and the lock changed immediately. 

Once the squatters are out, they lose their only bargaining chip, which is possession of the property. If they call the cops they will have to convince them to evict the owner now in full possession, with title deeds in hand. Who are the cops going to believe? The owner on the inside, or the criminals outside? Possession at this moment is key, and I doubt squatter extortion gangs would even bother calling the police if they have lost possession. 

But if squatters are in possession when the cops get involved, there is a chance they will be allowed to stay. If the police don’t evict on the spot, and leave it to the courts, owners face a potentially long and costly legal battle to get the squatters out. Which is why many owners cave into the extortion and pay the ransom money to get back possession of their property. That’s certainly been the case in the last two examples I have seen.

So, how do you get squatters out before the police get involved? The pija in the story above had a good strategy, but unfortunately that’s not an option for most people. And asking nicely won’t work. From what I can tell, most people turn for help to the growing number of companies staffed by muscle-bound heavies that have sprung up to help owners get squatters out for a fee, using tactics that some say are illegal. 

In theory, the heavies have experience of these situations, and can use physical force, or the threat of it, to get the squatters out quicker and cheaper than you could do yourself. However, extra-judicial measures are risky, and can backfire on the owner. Which is why, from what I can tell, the heavies often end up just negotiating and paying the extortion money on behalf of the owners. I’m not sure that justifies their fee.

If you want to avoid the risks of taking extra-judicial steps, you want to increase the chance of the police evicting on the spot. That means installing an alarm or property-watch system in your property so you can respond to the threat immediately if squatters get in. The longer you leave squatters undisturbed, the more likely they will be allowed to stay. You can’t respond to the threat if you don’t even know squatters are in. 

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