Squatter gangs use vulnerable families to prevent eviction

by Lorraine Williamson
Squatter gangs

BARCELONA – Spanish law on squatting has all kinds of different rules that depend on the type of home. It also depends on the owner and even who squats in a property. Squatter gangs know these laws well and make good use of them. For example, they are now deploying vulnerable families, so that the police cannot evacuate the squatted house.

In Arenys de Mar, a coastal town about 40 km from Barcelona, ​​a 40-year-old man squatted a house in the Horta del Bisbe neighbourhood a few months ago. After the squat, the house formed a base for young people with a criminal record who started stealing for the squatter. In addition, they searched for vacant homes for him, preferably owned by banks. Banks cannot go to court for expedited legal proceedings to evict squatter gangs from their premises. With such an accelerated procedure, it still takes three to six months for the squatters to leave the building. With banks, it can therefore take up to years before squatters have to leave a home. The young people in Horta del Bisbe found a house owned by a bank in an apartment building where about ten families live. 

Unrest in the neighbourhood 

The municipality would renovate that house to accommodate a family with a low income. A group of young South American squatters climbed through the window and made life impossible for the neighbours. They were threatened, insulted and treated aggressively. After a few months, and a violent incident, the police were able to persuade the squatters to leave the premises. This was much to the relief of the neighbours. However, the rest was short-lived. 

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In the time between the departure of these squatters and the arrival of the workers, another group of squatters saw their chance. They put sticks in the ditches to check which houses were empty. The local residents reported this, forcing the police to supervise extra. Despite this, the squatters forced a fence in front of a window on the street side and entered the house. 

New tactic for squatter gangs

The house is now occupied by a North African family with children, with a high risk of social exclusion. Since January, it has been legally stipulated that vulnerable persons who have squatted a house may not be evicted during the emergency, which lasts until 9 May 2021. Therefore, eviction of the house is not possible. This family does not cause problems in the neighbourhood, but criminals helped the family find the home after paying €2000. The gang guarantees the family housing and sometimes even pays part of the proceeds to spend the first days in a squat.

The tactic is as follows: After a few months, the family moves to a new squat and the house is rented to other groups of squatters. These often cause nuisance and crime in the neighbourhood. The gang has homes in Arenys, Camí de la Pietat and in nearby villages such as Canet de Mar. In Arenys alone, 58 homes have been squatted, mostly owned by banking institutions.  

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