MADRID – Many homeowners in Spain are terrified of squatters. Once they are in your home, it is practically impossible to get them out. Moreover, it now appears that squatters’ gangs also receive extra money from investment funds to clear their houses.
The judicial investigation into a mafia group that squatted flats in Barcelona and the surrounding area has revealed something that has been an open secret until now: investment funds and banks have paid generous sums to squatters to get their homes back. Furthermore, squatters know this and readily take advantage of it.
El País has seen the contracts between the financial entities and those classified as “residents”. In exchange for payments of up to €10,000, the squatters’ gangs agree to leave the flats. The money serves as a “moving aid”. The gangs make their squatters leave for a small percentage of the amount they receive. They often send another squatter to the same house a while later. So the story begins again.
Professional squatters network
At the end of November, this gang of squatters, led by the Colombian brothers Plinio C. and José C., was dismantled by the Catalan police. As of 2020, they occupy dozens of homes in Barcelona’s southern neighbourhoods and L’Hospitalet. The majority of these homes are owned by real estate companies affiliated with banks and investment funds. In addition to renting and selling flats to compatriots, the brothers occupy the houses in anticipation of a financial offer from the owner that will come sooner or later.
Legal proceedings take far too long
Banks and investment funds usually turn to civil litigation to get their homes back. That is a slow road because the courts are often overloaded. The squatters’ mafia knows this and thus takes advantage of the extra time to blackmail the owners.
“To avoid lengthy and costly procedures,” the police explains in one of their reports in the ‘Caso Squatter’, the owners offer the illegal residents “financial compensation” to leave. The first offer is low, often around €2,000. That will then be rejected. In the end, the squatters accept an offer that is usually between €8,000 and €10,000. But it doesn’t always end there. If the houses remain empty, “after a while” other squatters, sent by Plinio and José, will reoccupy the same house. That is, unless the owner has taken measures to better protect it.
Pay three times to three different squatters
At number 149 of Gran Vía in Barcelona, Inversiones Inmobiliarias Limara has had to pay three times for three different occupiers to leave one of its homes. Limara is one of many names (Dorine, Lanisei, Budmac, Avir Investments) that appear in the eviction contracts. However, all these companies belong to the investment fund Anticipa Real Estate. Anticipa is part of the North American giant Blackstone, one of the largest owners of rental properties in Spain. Now the company has provided the court with documents proving the payments.
Regulations in Spain “incentivise”squatting
Anticipa emphasises in El País that squatters are a “serious problem” and that Spain is “an anomaly in Europe” because the regulations, especially in Catalonia, “incentivise the occupation”. Squatting in Spain was made easier by the 1994 “Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos” (Urban Tenancy Act), which allows people to occupy unused or abandoned properties without the owner’s permission. They must then be able to prove that they have used the property for a certain period of time. The law was intended to provide housing for the vulnerable but is now being abused by squatter gangs. They also make use of the overloaded courts. Furthermore, the fact is that the process of evicting squatters can be long and difficult, makes it easier for them to occupy a building for longer.
Related post: Until July, Spain had 9,000 reports of squatting