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Squatting in Spain: Which regions have the worst ‘okupa’ problems? 

Squatting grew by 18 percent in 2021 in Spain, an illicit trend born from the country's housing issues and which sees many 'okupas' (squatters) exploit Spain's lenient legislation. Here are the regions which have the biggest number of squatters as well as differing opinions on how serious Spain's squatting problem really is.

squatters in barcelona spain
A graffiti on a rooftop in Barcelona reads "Occupy and resist". Catalonia and Barcelona province in particular have the biggest number of squatters, according to government dataPhoto: Makunin/Pixabay

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. 

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.

Even though squatting has been around in Spain long before the pandemic, the data suggests that the problem got worse last year. 

In September 2021, there were a total of 13,389 okupaciones (illegal home occupations) across Spain, according to the latest Interior Ministry stats, an 18 percent rise in the first eight months of the year. 

This increase coincides with the Spanish government’s decision in January 2021 to give greater protection to the country’s squatters while the state of emergency was ongoing, especially for those who had occupied properties owned by banks or large property owners, and if the squatters were deemed to be low earners or had a minor in their care. 

Where in Spain is squatting worse?

Catalonia continues to be the region with the highest number of okupas, with the 5,689 properties that are illegally occupied according to the Interior Ministry’s report, accounting for 42 percent of the total nationwide. The rise in squatting in Catalonia between January and September 2021 was 9 percent and the province of Barcelona accounts for 4,229 of the okupaciones

Andalusia in southern Spain saw an 11 percent increase in squatting between January and September of last year and now has 1,994 houses taken over by squatters. Ansalusian authorities have recently banned okupas on police records from being able to buy subsidised housing (VPO) in the southern region.

The Community of Madrid has the third highest number of properties with squatters in them with 1,282 cases, following a 24 percent rise over the first eight months of 2021. 

In Castilla-La Mancha, which now has 606 illegal occupations, the trend has grown by 31 percent, in Murcia with 476 cases it went up by 69.5 percent in 2021, in the Balearic Islands the total of 407 okupaciones comes after a huge rise of 73.9 percent, and the Canary Islands has 406 occupied homes, although the rate fell by 14.3 percent.

Other regions with a smaller number of squatters have also seen big proportional increases in 2021: Castilla y León now has 239 cases (+62.6 percent), Aragón has 202 illegal squats (+33.8 percent), the same as in the Basque Country (+16.1 percent); Galicia has okupas in 147 properties (+8.1 percent), Extremadura has 116 (+46.8 percent ) and Navarra 100 (+44.9 percent), and the rest of Spain’s regions have under 100 occupied homes.

The Spanish Interior Ministry’s Statistical Crime System (SEC) has been monitoring squatting cases in Spain since 2015, and according to their data, the problem was worse seven years ago than it is now, as their records show there were 22,461 occupied homes in 2015 compared to 13,389 by September 2021.

But according to Spain’s National Organisation of People Affected by Squatting (ONAO), a group created in 2020 to face the “unstoppable advance” of “this criminal phenomenon”, the government is vastly underreporting the actual number of homes being occupied in Spain.

ONAO estimates there are as many as 120,000 properties occupied by squatters across Spain at present.

Squatting, they believe, affects over a million Spaniards, and is a trend on the rise at a rate of 40 new squats reported a day in the last year.

“Squatters in Spain used to belong to far-left groups, anarchists who occupied homes for ideology. There was also a small group of poor, vulnerable people who squatted out of necessity and lack of help from the government,” ONAO president Toni Miranda told Spanish daily 20 minutos. 

“But with the Spanish government’s changes that favour squatting, criminal mafias have joined in to profit from invading homes and charging rent”.

Government data reveals that in 2020 alone, there were 14,675 complaints filed with police in Spain involving misappropriation and breaking and entering cases by squatters, somewhat calling into question the Interior Ministry’s total figure of 13,389 home occupations in Spain currently.

It’s also important to factor in on how long homes remain illegally occupied for. There’s a growing number of asesorías de okupación, anti-squatting ‘consultancy’ businesses that help clients get the squatters out of their homes without having to take the matter to court. 

These anti-squatting services are proliferating and are now present in cities such as Murcia, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid and Zaragoza, among others.

Incidentally, there is also a growing organised underground network of ‘squatter offices’ (known in Spanish as a oficinas de okupación) that actually offer legal and practical advice for those wanting to occupy a property.

According to Spanish sociologist and author Emmanuel Rodríguez, Spain’s squatting problem isn’t as bad as it’s been portrayed in the media, claiming instead that police stats reveal that the majority of occupied homes in Spain belong to banks and that higher home ownership rates in the country make the problem appear more serious than elsewhere in Europe.

“Fear of home occupation is an abstract fear as the chances of squatters entering your privately-owned or empty home are very low,”  Rodríguez told El Faro Radio, referring to the total number 25 million properties that exist in Spain, 3.4 million of which are empty. 


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For members


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.