Spain has a legal and political framework that encourages squatting, especially mafia extortion-rackets exploiting the system to shakedown property owners with the threat of squatters. So it should surprise nobody that Spain has a serious problem with the illegal occupation of property.
But not all squatters are the same. Very generally speaking, there are four different types of squatters, not including households that have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments due to hard times. If you own property in Spain, it might help you to know a bit more about the different types of squatters, so you have a better idea of what kind of a threat you are facing, if any.
Types of squatters in Spain
People with no other housing options, who cannot afford to rent a home, and have no access to social housing. These are people with few economic resources, who tend to come from deprived and marginalised backgrounds. These are people for whom the State typically provides social housing or housing benefits in other developed countries, but this is something that successive Spanish governments and regions have failed to do. This group tends to target properties such as abandoned warehouses, or derelict or empty homes in gritty urban areas, and pose little or no threat to properties like second homes on the coast.
Squatter lifestyle groups
Left-wing, anti-capitalist groups with a political agenda, probably from nice middle class backgrounds, enjoying alternative lifestyles, and rebelling against the system. Squatting in this case is a lifestyle choice, as they tend to have other housing options. They are well organised around a political agenda, and tend to take over whole buildings that are suited to a commune-style squat. They were part of the post-Franco counterculture, which gives them a venere of romanticism in the popular mind. They agitate for squatters’ rights, and enjoy high-level political support on the left, but they are less of a threat to individual homes.
Freeriders are people who do have other options, but cynically exploit Spain’s squatter-friendly legal and political environment to live for free at someone else’s expense. They might enter with a rental contact, and pay for a while, then stop paying. When finally evicted they might move on to another unsuspecting landlord, and repeat the same trick. They can live rent-free for years this way. A potential nightmare for landlords, but less of a threat to other owners.
Spain’s squatter-friendly legal and political framework makes property an ideal target for organised groups using squatters to extort money from owners. And the ban on all evictions introduced by the Government in response to the coronavirus crisis of 2020 leaves owners even more defenseless.
Mafias know that once a squatter is installed, the owner might be facing years of legal costs, lost income, and maintenance costs that can be ruinous, especially if the property is trashed before it is recovered, and needs a big investment to make it habitable again. Whilst their properties are occupied by squatters, owners must continue paying all the utility bills, not to mention taxes and community fees. These extortion-rackets have an incentive to run up big utility bills, safe in the knowledge that owners can be prosecuted if they cut off the supply. The squatter-friendly system means that mafias have owners over a barrel, and everyone knows it, so owners can be forgiven for paying them to leave, which is the whole point of the extortion. Unfortunately, when owners cave in, that just validates the extortion, and encourages more of it. When owners refuse to pay, some mafias have reportedly ‘sold on’ the use of the property to others, who may or may not know what is going on. That way the mafias get paid, yet owners are still left with a big problem.
Spain’s squatter friendly system, and the high-level political support squatters enjoy on the left, is an open invitation for organised gangs to extort property owners with little or no risk. The more expensive the property, the better. Squatter mafias are a threat to all properties in Spain, especially ones that are left unoccupied for significant periods of time such as second homes.