Regional authorities in Spain fight against vacant homes

by Lorraine Williamson
vacant homes

MADRID – Since the beginning of this century, Spain has been struggling with a shortage of social rental housing in particular. Whereas, on the other hand, there is a surplus of vacant homes. Therefore, a number of regional and municipal authorities are trying to do something about this with regulations. 

Statistics office INE reported in 2001 that 3.1 million houses in Spain were uninhabited. Ten years later, after the housing market collapse and a wave of evictions, there were even 3.4 million. Furthermore, with the current high prices in the private rental market, that number has only increased. 

Consequently, governments are trying to make vacant real estate owned by financial institutions create a contract for the rental market. So, the owners who rent out their homes are rewarded. And there are fines or even expropriations if the real estate has been vacant for a longer period of time. According to Unidas Podemos sources, the government wants large property owners to pay for the measures that will apply to small property owners. 


Since 2015, the regional government of Catalonia has been taxing real estate owners for the vacant properties of their homes, in order to encourage these homes to be released for the social rental market. The tax is levied on homes that have been vacant for more than two years and are owned by financial institutions or major shareholders. Between 2016 and 2020, the Generalitat collected €66.8 million net with this tax rule. 

The municipality of Barcelona has bought almost significant housing for €70 million in the past 6 years to avoid eviction proceedings and to have more housing available for homeless families. In addition, Mayor Colau has seized six homes owned by banks that had been vacant for more than two years for three years. The Catalan housing law states that a maximum of ten years of forced rental can be demanded from these owners. 

Balearic Islands 

In the Balearic Islands, the housing law prescribes that large property owners (of 10 or more homes) are obliged to register homes that have been vacant for more than two years. In the event of “real necessity”, the regional administration may dispose of houses from this register. Last March, the regional council made 56 vacant homes owned by banks available for the social rental market. The owners receive a compensation from the government for the use of the houses in the next 7 years. 


At the beginning of October, the Valencian Regional Council approved a measure to make vacant homes of large property owners available. With this new measure, the regional government expects to be able to release about 15,000 homes for social housing rent. Owners are given six months to sell, rent out or transfer the use of the vacant houses. If the property remains vacant for a longer period of time, a monthly fine will follow. In addition, all major property owners will receive a 30% surcharge on property taxes for all unused properties. 

Basque Country 

Since 2013, the regional administration of the Basque Country has already been able to make 15,134 vacant homes available for the protected rental market, for which the owners receive a monthly rent. Tenants pay €230 per month for the house, an amount that is supplemented by a maximum of €600 by the regional government. 

Since last June, property owners have been fined if homes have been vacant for more than 2 years. This costs €10 per square meter per year, with an increase of 10% for each year that the house is vacant for longer. In areas where the housing shortage is high, property owners can even be expropriated. 


The Municipality of Seville has invested €12 million in the purchase of 71 homes for the social housing market. According to data from the INE, 14.3% of the number of available homes in Seville was vacant in 2018. Partly due to other measures, that percentage has now been reduced to 7%. 

The municipality of Cádiz also started a Social Rent program in 2016. Owners of vacant homes can sell them through the mediation of the municipality. However, too few real estate owners made use of this, so the municipality is now looking for alternative measures. 

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