Barcelona Mayor sued by housing investor for squatter problem

Neighbours vs Vauras squatter agitprop

A court in Barcelona has accepted a lawsuit against the city’s Mayoress Ada Colau, and some of her colleagues, for coercion and administrative prevarication in a dispute over squatters with a developer.

Real estate investor & developer Vauras Investments is suing Barcelona Mayoress Ada Colau and some of her officials for a second time claiming intimidation over a dispute with squatters who invaded a building in Barcelona they bought to refurbish in 2016. Their first lawsuit against Colau & co. in 2020 alleging bribery and influence-trafficking was rejected by the courts.

The building on Calle Lleida in the Poble-sec district of Barcelona was occupied by squatters tied to a left-wing housing activist group calling itself the ‘Social Work of Barcelona’ in August of 2017, and evicted in March 2020, on the sixth attempt. The squat was called the ‘Bloc Llavors’.

Bloc Llavors protest in front of the building owned by Vauras Investments. Picture credit @obrasocialbcn

The Ajuntament, as Barcelona’s city government is known locally, reportedly fined Vauras €417,000 for refusing to provide social housing to the squatters it evicted. A judge has since ordered the City Hall to rescind the fine as unconstitutional. 

Vauras claim that city officials tried to coerce them into providing social housing for the squatters by linking it planning permission for their other building projects in the city. The magistrates have accepted the argument that the Ajuntament could use planning permission as a “way of intimidating” the developer to get the company to “bow to its wishes.”

The court will consider whether town hall officials threatened the developer with building licence problems in order to intimidate the developer into providing social housing for the squatters in its building, which would be illegal. 

The lawsuit also names Ada Colau’s colleagues Marc Serra, Lucía Martín, and Fuensanta Alcalá, all of whom sympathise with housing activists and squatter groups, and may have to appear before the court.

The defendants named in the case say they acted “scrupulously” within the law, whilst claiming the developer was engaged in a “speculative operation in the Poble-sec district” leading to the “eviction of the residents before the revaluation of the homes.”

The officials argue they were simply enforcing a law in force at the time requiring ‘big landlords’ to provide social housing to vulnerable groups. “The one who has to give explanations is the investment fund for having evicted vulnerable families,” says Serra.

According to Lucía Martín, Barcelona’s councillor for housing, this was a “clearcut case of real estate speculation in which an investment fund of global capital started a process to drive out the residents.”

A previous court threw out charges of bribery and influence-trafficking related to the same dispute between Vauras and Colau in November 2020, so her lawyers argue this new lawsuit has been presented in “procedural bad faith” and is just “politically motivated” according to press reports.

This case shows how careful housing investors need to be when buying buildings to renovate in Barcelona whilst the city is run by Ada Colau, and her hard-left Barcelona en Comú party, who see housing investors as speculators and ‘vulture funds’, and side with squatters and housing activists against investors.

It looks like Vauras Investments has been driven out of Barcelona by the hostile environment, as have other housing investors I know of. Over time this will probably lead to less new and refurbished property for sale in Barcelona, making the housing problem even worse.

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