Most landlords in Spain are worried about squatters, for good reason

squatters in Spain
Squatters are a big problem for landlords in Barcelona

A recent article in the Spanish daily ABC reports that 80% of landlords in Spain are worried about squatters taking over their properties, and offers legal advice that doesn’t really solve the problem.

The article (in Spanish) reports that in the first nine months of 2021 there were 13,389 cases of squatter invasions reported to the police (49 cases a day), not including the many cases not reported to the police by owners who decide to pursue extra-judicial solutions. Given that calling the police does not solve the problem in many, if not most cases, it is possible that the true number of squatter invasions in that period was much higher.

The article explains that the first thing you should do if squatters get in is call the police immediately. If you report the squatter invasion within 24 hours of it happening “the police will, in principle, get them out of the property, “ says Arantxa Goenaga, a lawyer with the firm Círculo Legal.

If you leave squatters undisturbed for longer than 24 hours they get squatter’s rights, and you have to take them to court in a civil case to get them evicted, we are told. Going to court can take years, and cost a fortune in legal fees. In the meantime you have to pay all the property ownership costs and property taxes, and you may have to pay their utility bills. Squatters can even sue you for damages if the property is not in good condition, or if they have an accident under your roof. When you finally get back your property, it will be beaten up, and the squatters will take everything of value with them when they leave. So reacting quickly, within 24 hours, is the key to getting them out straight away, the lawyers quoted in the article insist.  

Victims of squatters tell a different story

But scroll down to the public comments and you get a different story. Commenters with personal experience of squatters in Spain say that calling the police at any time is pointless unless you can demonstrate that you live there. You might be able to do that with a second-home, but it’s a tricky one to convince the police with an empty property you are trying to rent. If the police believe you live in the property, they will likely treat it as allanamiento de morada (burglary / breaking and entering) and kick the squatters out on the spot. In all other cases, they will probably leave the squatters in peace, and leave the problem to the courts, which are now completely overloaded.

“Starting legal proceedings is ABSURD because the squatters tend to be very well informed and manage to drag the process out for two or three years,” explains one commenter with two properties in Barcelona occupied by squatters. “In my first case of squatters I ended up paying 10,000€ to one of the squatter removal companies like Desokupa and FueraOkupas, but they are just mediators, and won’t risk breaking the law, so really they are just selling smoke and mirrors.”

This kind of ‘real-world’ public attitude to the squatting problem in Spain is confirmed in an online poll being run by the Barcelona-based Spanish daily La Vanguardia. With around 250 respondents so far, the survey shows that:

  • 95% of respondents say squatters are treated with impunity in Spain
  • 76% say they are more afraid of squatters than burglars
  • 98% say the eviction process is too slow
  • 53% disagree with the claim that a the lack of social and affordable housing lies behind the squatting problem
  • 94% say owners are defenceless against squatters

In the squatter cases I have seen, including second-homes, calling the police was pointless, and the squatter removal companies simply took a fat fee to pay the squatters to leave. So if squatters do get into your Spanish property and make themselves at home, you have few good options. Your best protection is one of the alarm companies registered with the police, as in most cases the police kick out intruders if called by an alarm company. But even there I’ve heard of cases where the police were called and did nothing, or the alarm company didn’t call the police. Even if you have an alarm, you might want to have your own backup home surveillance system in place.

Whilst the Spanish State protects squatter rights at the expense of private property rights no solution against squatters will be perfect. But there are steps you can take to reduce the threat of squatters getting into your property in Spain, and increase your chances of responding effectively if they do get in. I plan to explain all these steps in a guide on how to protect yourself against squatters in Spain. I know I’ve been promising this guide for months now, and have yet to deliver, but it is in the pipeline, I promise.

spanish squatters
These leopard skin loafers were the only personal possession squatters didn’t steal when the left a second-home in Sitges.

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