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PROPERTY

Why is Spain making it harder to evict squatters?

The Spanish government’s recent anti-eviction measures include a clause which gives greater protection to some of the country’s squatters, at least while Spain's state of emergency is ongoing.

Why is Spain making it harder to evict squatters?
Protesters hold a sign reading "Homeless Squatters" during a 2018 demo by the Okupa squatters movement in Barcelona. Photos: AFP

What’s the latest?

On January 20, the Spanish government published its latest decree relating to housing for families who’ve seen their earnings plummet during the pandemic, covering everything from rent aid to a ban on evictions until the end of Spain’s state of alarm, which is currently scheduled for May.

READ MORE: What can I do if I'm struggling to pay rent in Spain?

In the section relating to evictions – desahucios in Spanish – a clause was added to include people who are illegally occupying properties in Spain. 

Once Spanish lawyers and the press had worked their way through the legalese of Real Decreto-ley 1/2021, they noticed that what the Spanish government had done is give judges the power to paralyse the eviction of squatters during the state of alarm.

These judicial powers to temporarily stop evictions were up to now only applicable in cases where rent or mortgages haven’t been paid.

So until May 9, Spanish judges have the final say on whether squatters – okupas in Spanish – can be legally evicted.

Are all squatters in Spain free to do as they please for now?

No. Only illegal occupiers who are classified as dependant by the Spanish government or who are the victims of gender violence will be protected. If squatters’ monthly earnings are below €1,694 (three times the IPREM index) and they care for a dependant or a minor, they are likely to get protection.

The judge in question can only temporarily prevent the squatters’ eviction if they’ve occupied the property of a company or owner of ten or more properties in Spain.

Even in such cases, squatters won’t get any legal protection if the property is another person’s first or second home.

It’s also worth noting that it won’t be possible to evict squatters from a home when the illegal entry has occurred without “intimidation or violence”.

The most common means of breaking into an empty property in Spain is kicking the door open, which would not constitute a violent entry, according to legal sources.

This temporary protection doesn’t mean that squatters are exempt from facing legal charges either, all the measure does is grant them refuge during the state of alarm.

Furthermore, the property’s occupation has to have happened before April 2020 for the eviction prevention to be applicable.

Eskalera Karakola, a squatter's house occupied by women in Madrid. Photo: Mr. Tickle/Wikimedia

Do second home owners who aren’t in Spain now need to worry about this?

The loophole available to some illegal occupiers will technically not affect most second homeowners, but this may still not serve as consolation to the hundreds of thousands of foreigners who own a home in Spain which they can’t get to due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

They should keep in mind that Spanish law differentiates usurpación (misappropriation) from allanamiento de morada (breaking and entering), the determining factor for the judge being whether the property is inhabited or not in terms of taking action against the okupas.

Fortunately, second homes are still considered a morada (dwelling) in Spain, as long as they are furnished and have all the basic services such as water and electricity. Therefore, they receive the same protection as first homes.

Nonetheless, having your home occupied by squatters in Spain can work out to be a legal nightmare despite this apparent protection for regular homeowners.

The Local Spain has written about this in detail, going over the ways homeowners in Spain can prevent this from happening to them.

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

 

So, why is Spain making it harder to kick out some illegal occupiers?

Squatting has been a highly divisive issue in Spain in recent years.

On the one hand, there are more than 3.4 million empty properties across the country (according to the latest government census) and an increasing number of Spanish families can’t face high rents or pay mortgage payments in an unstable job market. This was the case even before the pandemic.

On the other hand, critics say there are too many legal obstacles which hinder squatters' speedy eviction, which okupas who are not necessarily struggling financially are well aware of and duly exploit.

And it’s not just millionaires and investment companies who have been locked out of their properties, but ordinary people who have worked hard to buy a second home.

In this particular case, Spanish Minister of Development José Luis Ábalos has had to clarify that his government added the clause relating to eviction protection for illegal occupiers based on the recommendation of legal advisers, as they couldn’t forget about “vulnerable groups , such as victims of gender violence, dependents or families with minors or dependents in their care”.

In truth, this latest measure probably doesn’t warrant the reaction it’s had from the Spanish press, which has been awash with shock articles about the measure. Right-leaning news sources have been comparing it to President Macron’s stance, who has just rolled out a decree to speed up squatter evictions.

But it’s a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back for many Spaniards, after years of TV reports and news articles showing how gangs of organised okupas have bullied their way into buildings and caused havoc in previously peaceful neighbourhoods with impunity.

The other side of illegal occupation, where desperate families with no other choice but to break into an empty property owned by the bank orsleep on the street, is overshadowed. 

As the Spanish saying goes – pagan justos por pecadores – the just pay for what the sinners have done.

 

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For members

RENTING IN SPAIN

How to rent a property in Spain without a job contract

When looking to rent in Spain, property owners and estate agents often ask for a 'nómina' and work contract - something that can prove tricky if you're self-employed or not working. Here's how to prove your solvency and secure the rental.

How to rent a property in Spain without a job contract

If you’re looking for a house or apartment to rent in Spain, there can be a multitude of different factors to consider.

The price, the size, the location, the neighbourhood, which floor the flat is, on and whether there’s a lift, whether it’s interior or exterior, how many apartments there are per floor, whether to go private or through an estate agents and, of course, the search itself.

When you’re going on visits, you’ll have to contend not only with owner or agent trying to ‘sell you’ the place, but also explaining the terms and conditions (often referred to as las condiciones or requisitos para entrar).

In Spain, the process can be a little complicated. Often landlords ask for two months deposit upfront, and those that go through an intermediary estate agent tend to ask for two months, plus an extra month (plus VAT, or IVA as it is in Spain) that goes to the agent! It certainly adds up. 

Not only that, but very often in Spain you are expected to prove you will be able to pay your rent every month. And it’s not as simple as you might think. 

Most estate agents or landlords think hat the best way to ascertain this is by you providing proof of an employment contract (contrato laboral) and recent payslips (la nómina) that demonstrate you are paid the same amount every month, and that it’s enough to cover the rent and other expenses.

Here’s where things can start to get tricky for self-employed people (known as autónomos in Spain), who number more than 3 million in Spain.

Regardless of whether your monthly autónomo earnings are high pretty much every month, regardless of how consistent they may be, or even if you have regular clients, the irregular and insecure nature of Spain’s work market have ensured that landlords and realtors take a rigid attitude towards the rules.

This is especially true following the turbulent economic times of recent years as we’ve moved from global pandemic to war in Europe to spiralling inflationary pressures on the global economy.

Landlords want to be sure you can pay the rent. Therefore, they may favour a waiter with a nómina of €1,000 a month over an autónomo who can prove monthly earnings double that for the previous six months. Doesn’t seem fair, right? 

READ MORE: Why you should be raising your rates if you’re self-employed in Spain

Well, that’s often how it can be in Spain. Fortunately, if you find yourself in this situation, there are various ways you can convince potential landlords that you are financially solvent enough to rent their property, with or without a fixed contract

The law

Now, it is not unheard of – in Spain nor anywhere else in the world – for an estate agent or landlord to try and squeeze more money out of you, or to add on some extra charges. In most people’s experience, Spanish estate agents and landlords are no better or worse than anyone else, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

It has been known, however, for some in Spain to try and get an extra month’s deposit by telling potential tenants that they need a nómina by law in order to rent a property in Spain, and that they’re doing you a favour by allowing it.

Simply put, this is not true. According to Spanish law, more specifically, La Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos (Urban Renting Law), although many landlords require some form of financial insurance, there is absolutely nothing to say a nómina is necessary to rent a property in Spain. A deposit is legally required, but a nómina?

Helpful? Certainly. Legally necessary? Definitely not.

That said, if you explain to the property owner that you’re self-employed, some landlords maybe be willing to make other arrangements to ensure the rent.

Here are some options, and other bits of paperwork that could help:

Aval bancario: Like a bank guarantee, some landlords request tenants without nóminas or work contracts to set up an aval bancario.

You must pay in an agreed amount (often worth the value of two or three months of rent, sometimes more) into a bank account that you’re a customer with.

It’s money that you cannot touch for an agreed period of time and which you pay some interest on, and in the event that you do not pay your rent, the landlord will be able to access said funds.

This is not the cheapest way to rent a property, but it may be one of the more effective ways of convincing a landlord to accept you as a tenant.

If you pay your rent diligently every month and prove that you are reliable, after a year you should speak to your landlord to ask them them to cancel the aval in order to not continue paying interest on it and recover your stored money.

Anuncios de particulares: If you’re using the usual rental search engines like Idealista or Fotocasa, the vast majority of rental adverts are from estate agents (inmobiliarias) who ask for all the proper documentation, including contracts and pay slips, and often the extra month’s rent as a fee.

When you’re making your search, keen an eye out for anuncios particulares , which are private ads direct from landlords.

Sometimes if you deal directly with the owner themselves, they are less strict about rules with regards to nóminas and contracts. Maybe you’ll get really lucky and find a landlord that takes a liking to you and who only asks for one month’s deposit.

Seguro de impago de alquiler: A landlord may be more likely to rent to you even if you don’t have a nómina when they have seguro de impago de alquiler, non-payment rental insurance. It protects the landlord for the duration of the contract and covers the rent and any repairs or legal fees.

IRPF: IRPF is Spain’s personal income tax, and providing your most recent income tax return could help put your potential landlord at ease by proving that what you’ve earned over the last year could cover the cost of the rent.

Seguridad Social: Similarly, providing proof of your social security payment can help prove your financial solvency.

Bank statement: a simple bank statement to show account activity – and that you have enough to pay the rent and deposit, of course – might ease the mind of your landlord as it allows them to see your incomings and any debts you might have.

IVA: Showing your VAT (IVA in Spain) returns could be another tool that, when used in conjunction with other ways of proving your solvency, could convince a landlord to rent to an autónomo.

Pensioner documentation: If you’re retired and you’re looking to rent, any official documents which show how much pension money you receive every month, along with bank statement reflecting savings, should suffice to convince a landlord or estate agent that you’re solvent.

READ ALSO: Renting in Spain: Can my landlord put up my rent due to rising inflation?

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