MADRID – Illegal squatting remains one of the main concerns of property owners in Spain. They denounce their disenfranchisement and the escalation of squatters occupying houses with increasingly ingenious tactics. One is the “Delivery Pizza Technique.”
This has been used in Catalonia for years but is now also reaching other parts of Spain. The technique works as follows. The squatters order a pizza at the address they chose to crack. They stop the delivery man and pay for the pizza. Then they disappear for two days to occupy the house on the third day.
When the police arrive, warned by the owners or neighbours, they can show with the pizza ticket that they have been in the house for more than 48 hours. This prevents immediate evacuation. When squatters can ‘prove’ that they have been in the home for at least 48 hours, their case must be examined by a judge. Moreover, that is not so easy. Spanish courts have been struggling for years with major staff shortages and months of delays.
Related post: Homeless in Spain because a squatter is occupying your home
According to the real estate industry, this tactic is not new and has been going on for years. This is also recognised by Montserrat Junyent, Head of Legal Advice of the General Council of the COAPI of Spain. In Idealista she says: “In Catalonia, the pizza technique already came into force in 2018 after the express eviction law came into force. This approach to squatters is now also spreading to other parts of Spain. Junyent adds that based on the pizza purchase receipt, which often also includes the delivery address, the police do not have sufficient powers to act and evict the squatters.
Deportation proceedings take an average of more than 18 months
According to the latest data from the General Council for the Judiciary (CGPJ), referring to 2021, final court decisions to evict the squatters took an average of 18.1 months. This means owners had to wait over 1.5 years to get their home back after it was squatted.
How can a pizza ticket have the force of a notarial deed?
The national organisation of victims of home squatting (ONAO) also confirms that this tactic is operational in more and more parts of Spain. But how is it possible a receipt for a pizza order seems to have the force of a notational deed? ONAO emphasises in this regard that “the police seem to suffer from institutional and political intimidation”. Agents face low resources, high politicisation in management, many inept political orders, and retaliation for going beyond official instructions. “Until we have a political change, we see squatting crime being supported,” agrees Toni Miranda, president of ONAO.
Related post: Home sales including squatters a new trend in the Spanish property market
Furthermore, the rent negotiations agency, ANA points out “law enforcement officers are afraid of putting their jobs on the line. Think of police officers who are faced with the various tricks of the squatters to confuse the police authority and the illegal occupation of the house, because if there were a complaint about their behaviour entering an ‘inhabited’ house, they risk a much higher fine than the squatters.
In addition, a special disqualification may follow. This could even amount to the permanent loss of their position as a police officer or Guardia Civil officer. During this sanction, the officers are also not allowed to apply for similar positions. That is why when in doubt, officers quickly leave the case to the courts. But from that moment on, a perpetual case for the owners to reclaim their property starts.”
Mafia gangs demand large amounts of money to leave their homes
Another widespread practice among squatters is that mafia gangs demand large sums of money from homeowners to vacate a property. This mainly affects owners who own several homes. One of the country’s largest homeowners explained to Idealista: “I am concerned that the level of exit incentives already seems normal. Paying around €3,000 to get a property back, and in some cases even €5,000 is demanded”.
What appears to be tenants turn out to be squatters
Another tactic that has proliferated in recent months is called ‘inquiocupación’ in Spanish. This one is most feared by homeowners. It concerns the apparently normal tenant who enters the house and stops paying the rent after one or two months. According to Toni Miranda, this is “causing the drop in rental supply”. Furthermore, it is “owing to the government of Pedro Sanchez and his policy of protecting squatters”.
Delays in the courts
According to Martino Cubells in Nius Diario, the enormous delays and staff shortages in the Spanish legal system work in favour of the ‘inquiocupa’. He “knows all the tools to further delay the procedure”. There are even websites that advise squatters on the steps to follow to delay the eviction. “The law provides for eviction for non-payment, but this is never immediately complied with. This is because the so-called tenant requests free legal assistance and that request prolongs the procedure,” Cubells clarifies.
The need for legal reform
Several voices from the legal world have opened the debate over the past few weeks about the need to amend Section 37 of the LAU Urban Rental Act. An adjustment is necessary precisely to prevent ‘inquiocupation’. One of the advocates is Matilde Cuena Casas, a professor of civil law at the Complutense University of Madrid. The purpose of this amendment to the law is to speed up the process of eviction from a squatted home.
To this end, the freedom of form of the rental contract would have to be changed. Only formal contracts should be accepted as valid. Therefore, these contracts must be made in writing. They should be sealed and filed with the competent authority of the Autonomous Community where the dwelling is located. ANA has also joined the request to amend Article 37 of the LAU regarding truthful rental agreements.
A false rental contract will suffice
At this point, according to Cuena Casas, it is sufficient that “the defendants provide a false rental agreement so that the judge cannot order an eviction. The most important thing is that it is “formally” a rental agreement, that looks correct so that the judge can no longer order the eviction.
Ultimately, a judge will conclude that the squatter is illegally occupying the home, but that process will take one and a half to two years. This means that the squatter’s goal has been achieved: to be able to stay in the building for free all that time.
Give judges more tools
In addition, ANA proposes a second amendment to Article 37 of the LAU to give judges more tools in these types of proceedings. The proposal is that in order to register the leases in the clerks’ offices, the landlords must prove their status by presenting a title enabling them to rent the houses. For example, a notarial title deed (escritura).
According to José Ramon Zurdo, a lawyer at ANA, it is often the case that those documents are in the same house that is occupied so that at that crucial moment the landlord can no longer access the papers that prove that he is the rightful owner of the property. home. “With this measure that we are proposing, the homeowners would have already accredited property or use titles in the registries of the Autonomous Communities, which would then be directly available to the judges”.