MADRID – The Spanish government’s decision to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic does not appear to have the desired effect. There are more evictions than before the pandemic.
With the extraordinary decree of urgent measures to address the vulnerability in housing during the pandemic, the government of Spain wanted to stop the evictions. However, that did not work. From January to March 2021, the number of evictions carried out by the courts increased by an average of 14%. In the coastal provinces that are heavily dependent on tourism, the increase was ‘dramatic’, according to the newspaper El Diario.
More evictions in 29 of 50 provinces
According to the latest data published by the General Council for the Judiciary, court actions to evict tenants increased in 29 of the 50 provinces in the first quarter of 2021. No data are available for Ceuta and Melilla. This concerns a total of 7,862 evictions, which is 14% more than the previous year.
In some cases, the increase is huge, such as Almería, with an increase of 89% compared to the same period in 2020. Also Avila (150%), Cuenca (450%), Granada (80%) and Guadalajara, with 82% more evictions.
More evictions in tourist areas
In areas where the economy is most dependent on tourism, with tens of thousands of people becoming unemployed or affected under an ERTE scheme, the increase is also large. Evictions in Castellón have increased by 46%, in Las Palmas by 26%, in Tenerife, they have increased to 42%, in the Balearic Islands to 35%, Murcia, 25% or in Granada almost doubled with 80% more court proceedings than in 2020.
Last October, the Minister of Transport, Mobility, and Urban Agenda, José Luis Ábalos, responsible for drafting the measure, claimed that thanks to this regulation there were “in theory” no evictions. To his surprise, he had to admit during a press conference that a Madrid family with young children was nevertheless evicted. And they were not the only ones.
Housing platforms are warning
The housing platforms and unions are well aware of what is going. They have been warning for months that numbers will not fall and that banks, investment funds, real estate companies, major shareholders, and even social housing companies continue to sue and try to evict vulnerable families. They simply ignore the text of the decree or make use of the loopholes in the law.
The beginning of the year has been especially intense. The Stop Evictions platform in the Balearic Islands managed to prevent 22 evictions within fifteen days. 22 out of 374 official cases were conducted between January and the end of March.
José Cardona, of the Tenants’ Union of Gran Canaria, says of the figures: “They are really alarming. What we said a year ago is confirmed: the social shield of the PSOE government and Unidad Podemos is insufficient.” On Monday morning, this union denounced the attempted eviction of Caixabank, Coral Homes, and Building Centre in an urbanisation in the municipality of Galdas. Seventy families were allegedly misled by a promoter who asked them for bail in January and disappeared after collecting it. “We’re talking 70 cases. It’s a macro real estate scam,” Cardona says. “It is a humanitarian crisis that will become dramatic in September when the protection period of the royal decree ends.”
The prototype of the evicted tenants is clear: it mainly concerns women, single-parent families, or migrant families.
In some cases, a landlord refuses to renew the contract and then tries to evict tenants through legal means. As is the case of Quim, Laura, and their son in Calle Rabassa in Barcelona. According to this family, Caixabank does not want to extend their rent. Or Dolores, who has been paying her rent for 42 years in her house in Carabanchel, in Madrid. The private company that owns her home doesn’t answer the phone, so she can’t renew her lease.
Or the various families with five minors who have lived in four rental homes for decades and have now been asked to leave their homes because the private owner wants to use them for holiday rentals.
Tenants’ associations also come up with poignant examples. Such as that of Juan in Arganda del Rey, a 64-year-old widower, and a retiree with medical problems, who lives with his 46-year-old son and his 5, 9, 17, and 19-year-old grandchildren in a rental apartment of the social housing of the municipality of Madrid. The public body now has an eviction case against brought it on while he lived there for 33 years.
Each of these families has received at least one eviction letter during the current pandemic. This causes fear, sadness, and great insecurity in the process that may leave them homeless.
Families have to request the judicial protection
The Royal Legislative Decree 37/2020 with urgent measures to deal with vulnerable situations is judicial protection that those affected must actively request, not an official measure that stops evictions until August 9, the end date of the last extension of the decree.
Nevertheless, the processes and actions of the judicial committees with the pandemic have not stopped. Homeowners or housing companies also did not stop renting out. Since April 2020 and through March 31 this year, courts have sent 22,111 notices notifying individuals of the date of the next eviction.
Complicated procedures increase ‘defencelessness’
In order to make use of the decree, the families must at every step adopt the judicial terminology and appeal or beg for the protection of the institutions. “The defencelessness of the families is total,” said María, of the Obra Social de Tetuán, in Madrid. “There are public defenders who don’t know there is an extraordinary decree in a pandemic, we need to tell them.”
The Aragon region is one of three regions, along with Galicia and the Basque Country, where the number of evictions has decreased this quarter. “We can assume that the court has done its part,” explains Ricardo Arnedo of the Zaragoza Tenants’ Union. He does criticise the fact that: “The text in the decree obliges the administrations to ensure financially vulnerable families with decent housing as an alternative. In all those months that happened in any of the cases.” According to Arnedo, lack of social housing is not an excuse, “because the decree does not say that it must be social housing. A worthy alternative must simply be provided”.
The average for the European Union according to the Vivienda y Suelo Observatory is 4 social housing units for every 100 inhabitants, while Spain has 1 housing unit for every 100 inhabitants, placing the country in 17th position on the list. The ranking is led by the Netherlands, with more than 12 social housing per 100 inhabitants, followed by Austria, with 10% social housing, Denmark (9.5%), Sweden (8%), and France, which is below 7.5%.