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How to stop squatters from moving into your empty home in Spain

More than 14,000 properties were illegally occupied by squatters in Spain in 2019. Here’s what you need to know about your rights (and theirs) and how to prevent it from happening to you.

How to stop squatters from moving into your empty home in Spain
"Occupy and resist", reads the graffiti on the rooftops of this occupied building in Barcelona, the city in Spain with most squatters. Photo: Johannes Wünsch/Pixabay

Spain has a big problem with okupas, as squatters are called in Spanish. 

Two factors have played a major role in their proliferation in recent years: the more than 3.4 million empty properties across the country (according to the latest government census) and the legal obstacles which hinder squatters’ speedy eviction (which okupas are well aware of and duly exploit).

According to the Interior Ministry’s Statistical Crime System (SEC), 13,006 properties were illegally occupied in Spain in 2020, slightly fewer than in 2019 when 14,621 were okupadas. In 2015, the figure was even higher: 22,461.

Despite the slight drop in squatting, okupas are now taking advantage of the high volume of empty flats and houses in tourist hotspots on the coast, given the low holiday let occupancy and the absence of foreign second homeowners caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions.

Catalonia is by far the worst-hit region in terms of okupación, with police more than 6,259 complaints from property owners in 2020, 500 more than for the same period last year.

Barcelona accounts for the majority of these illegal occupations, but other Catalan provinces such as Girona and Tarragona have the same rate of okupas as Madrid, Seville and Valencia. Around 20 properties are illegally occupied in Catalonia every day.

Nevertheless, all around Spain there are reports of squatters taking over buildings and residential areas, in some cases having the audacity to ‘sell’ the properties to other okupas for thousands of euros.

Many Spaniards find the okupa trend abhorrent, and while a others argue that squatting is a consequence of the high rate of evictions due to unpaid mortgages and sky-high rents (as well as the current coronavirus pandemic), many squatters are far from being bankrupt and choose la okupación as a way of life.

How can all this be happening? Why is it so hard to evict squatters in Spain and what can be done to avoid it? And if it happens, how can squatters be kicked out? Here’s what you need to know.

Photo: Peggy Marco/Pixabay

What does Spanish law say about squatting?

The occupation of someone else's property does constitute a crime in Spain, as established in article 245 of Spain’s Penal Code: “Whoever occupies, without due authorisation, a property, dwelling or building belonging to someone else and which does not constitute their residence, or remains in the property against the will of the owner, will be punished with up to three to six months of prison”.

However, sentences in Spain under two years usually don’t result in actual prison time, which hardly acts as a dissuasion for okupas.

Another key point is that Spanish law differentiates between “usurpación” (misappropriation) and “allanamiento de morada” (breaking and entering), the determining factor being whether the property is inhabited or not.

In Spain, it’s up to the judge’s interpretation whether entering an empty property (usurpación) is a crime, with the general consensus according to Spain’s 1995 Penal Code being that only the most serious incidents should be considered punishable.

2021 STATE OF ALARM UPDATE: Why is Spain making it harder to evict squatters?

Furthermore, the criminal process for these matters is long (9 to 18 months on average) and arduous in Spain, with no guarantees for the property owner as their complaint can be rejected by a judge.

There is no specific jurisdiction in place for squatters, which means they are granted the same rights as homeowners who the banks want to evict for not paying their mortgages (procedimiento de desahucio por precario).

Spain, together with Portugal, are the only countries in Europe with this type of lenient legislation.

What should I do if squatters move into my home?

The first 48 hours are crucial if your home or second home is illegally occupied.

If you can prove that squatters moved into your property within this two-day period, you can take the matter to the police and they can evict the okupas without a warrant.

If 48 hours have elapsed and the squatters have changed the lock, you will require a warrant and that’s when the legal ordeal begins.

You will have to file a request for eviction (demanda civil de deshaucio) and the judge will set a time and a date for you and the squatters to appear in court. Crucially, many okupas refuse to identify themselves or attend proceedings, which effectively stalls the process.

If any of the occupants are minors or vulnerable people, the judge is more likely to side with the squatters.

A squatter in Barcelona tries to stop police from evicting him. Photo: AFP

Police cannot enter the occupied property and force the squatters to identify themselves while in the dwelling, with their only option being to apprehend them while they’re outdoors.

If the judge rules in favour of the plaintiff, the police can proceed to evict the okupas with force.

If the property in question is the owner’s main address, the proprietor will still have to file the request for eviction through the courts, although the judge is more likely to rule in the owner’s favour and trials are generally scheduled faster.

This is one of the reasons why squatters often make sure that the dwelling they are occupying is a second home.

Legal costs for homeowners who find themselves in this ordeal depend on the type of property and lawyer but usually run between €600 and €3,000.

Are there any legal loopholes homeowners can exploit?

Some affected homeowners who fear costly, lengthy and potentially unsuccessful legal proceedings opt instead to call the police in the first place and tell them that there are burglars in their home rather than squatters, in effect allowing police to enter the property with force and without a warrant.

There are also those who choose not to file a complaint or attempt to enter the property, thus giving the squatters a false sense of comfort. Instead they reach an agreement with a locksmith, identify the squatters and stand guard waiting for the moment all of them have left the dwelling.

Once empty, owner and locksmith proceed to change the locks again (most squatters change the lock the moment they move in), thus reclaiming the property that’s rightfully his or hers.

Another option which falls within the limits of Spain’s legal system is contacting one of numerous anti-squatter agencies currently operating in Spain, which specialise in negotiating with the illegal occupants to leave the property and setting up 24-hour surveillance.

One of these is Barcelona-based company Desokupa, whose staff members are burly enough to intimidate the squatters whilst knowing what the law allows them to say and do.

If reclaiming the property isn’t possible by these initial means, these companies negotiate a financial sum between the owner and the squatters for them to leave. 

How should I prevent squatters from moving into my home?

– The best way to prevent squatters from moving into your property while it’s uninhabited, you’re away or on holiday is to rent it out.

– If you can’t or don’t want to let it out, the most common advice is to make it seem like the property is inhabited.

Squatters constantly look out for signs that a property is empty: blinds always shut, post box full to the brim, lights always off etc

So set a timer on some of the lights, if you live close by check on the property regularly and pick up the post. If you’re nowhere near the property, asking a neighbour or a friend to keep an eye out or to stop by on a regular basis is a sensible choice.

– If this isn’t an option, installing extra security measures is probably your best bet. There are plenty of security companies in Spain offering everything from reinforced doors to 24-hour surveillance. Even phone and internet provider Movistar now offers security cameras as an add-on to their deals.

– If you’re looking to buy a home in Spain soon which you won’t be living in permanently, consider choosing one in a complex with security guards as an extra precaution from squatters and, of course, burglars.  

Member comments

  1. Definitely affects our future plans for a 2nd home in Spain or Portugal. Maybe just a rental instead. Is there any hope these laws may be changed in the near future?

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PROPERTY

Home insurance in Spain: How does it work and what does it cover?

Home insurance in Spain has policies which may differ from what you're used to in your home country. Here's why Spanish home insurance may surprise you in terms of what it covers, what it costs, key info and whether it's worth getting.

Home insurance in Spain: How does it work and what does it cover?

If you’re moving to Spain and purchasing a property or even renting, one of the first and most important factors to consider is purchasing home insurance.

According to the latest data available, approximately 23 percent of households in Spain are uninsured. That percentage corresponds to around 6 million homes.

But with low prices and the wide range of situations Spanish home insurance covers, there’s little reason not to get it.

Contracting home insurance is only essential in Spain when you acquire a mortgage. The current Mortgage Law requires you to take out this insurance if you are going to buy a house with a loan and is an essential requirement for banks to grant you the money.

If you’re renting in Spain, you’re not obliged to contract home insurance, but it still may be a good idea.

Your landlord may have buildings insurance, but you may still want to take out some type of insurance to protect your own belongings or the contents of the property. 

In the UK, home contents insurance covers your personal possessions against theft, fire or other damage, while buildings insurance covers the structure of your property if the tiles on your roof are broken in a storm for example, the outside is damaged by fire or a tree falls on part of your property.

In Spain, home insurance works slightly differently. Like in the UK and other countries there are different types of insurance. 

READ ALSO: Is getting rental default insurance worth it for landlords in Spain?

What types of home insurance are there in Spain?

The most basic is seguros de daños or damage insurance which is similar to buildings insurance in the UK. This will only protect the structure of your property. This would be damage caused by major events such as fires, explosions, flooding, acts of vandalism or subsidence and you should still check the smallprint to be sure of the conditions. With flooding for example, most insurers cover flooding damage caused by rainfall greater than 40 litres per square metre per hour.

The second tier is seguros multiriesgo or multi-risk insurance. This covers both your building and its contents and is one of the most comprehensive types of home insurance in Spain.

This type of insurance not only covers big incidents like fire or theft, but it also covers a whole range of minor issues, which is very different from the type of contents insurance in the UK.

Home insurance is only essential in Spain when you acquire a mortgage. Photo: Louis Hansel / Unsplash

It can cover for everything from a blocked sink to a burst pipe in the wall or a broken radiator. Sometimes it may even cover the breakdown of your white goods such as washing machine and fridge, depending on how old they are and what your specific policy says.

It’s also especially useful for flat owners as it covers against damage to your neighbours’ property if something inside your apartment is at fault.

For example, if your shower or toilet breaks and starts leaking into the flat downstairs, your insurance should cover the damage to your neighbour’s ceiling so that you won’t have to fork out a fortune for fixing someone else’s property.

Many major cities in Spain have historic quarters and some of its nicest-looking apartment buildings are some of the oldest too, so it’s particularly useful if your property is old and prone to needing fixing regularly. 

The third and highest type of home insurance coverage in Spain is all-risk home insurance, which has extended coverage that includes robbery on the street, damage to extra storage rooms outside the main property or coverage for cosmetic damage.

What you need to know

Keep in mind that when you do claim or after you have claimed a couple of times, it’s normal that the insurance company won’t want you to be their client anymore and will terminate your contract.

This shouldn’t be a problem, however, you will simply contract a new home insurance policy with a different company. It helps to go with a broker so that they can present you with different options to choose from, so you know what’s the best.

Be aware that every insurance company will have a slightly different policy so just because a certain item may have been covered on your old policy, it doesn’t mean that will be on the new one or be covered to the same amount of money.

What are some of the most popular home insurance companies in Spain?

There are many different companies that offer multi-risk insurance policies in Spain, both international and national companies. Some of the most popular are:

  • AXA Home Insurance
  • Generali
  • Zurich
  • Mapfre
  • Caser
  • El Corte Inglés 

How much does home insurance cost in Spain?

As the multi-risk policies cover so many different aspects, you would imagine that they’re very expensive. Surprisingly though, these are quite affordable at under €200 per year according to the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU).

The price isn’t too different from what you’d pay in the UK. Money Supermarket says that a combined home and contents insurance policy in the UK costs around £140 per year, but usually it will cover a lot less. 

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