Okupas and COVID-19: be aware of squatters in Spain

Squatters are a constant problem throughout Spain
Squatters are a constant problem throughout Spain
13 August 2020, Emma Donaldson

The topic of squatters in Spain, or okupas in Spanish, is a controversial problem across the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, law firms have seen a considerable increase in complaints about squatters from owners of both holiday homes and main residences.

According to data from the Ministry of the Interior, illegal occupation has grown in Spain since 2016 by almost 50% and between 2018 and 2019 it increased by 20%, to 14,394 occupations. The majority of cases are seen in Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga: in the last year, 61% of empty properties in Spain have had problems with squatters and in Catalonia, this number rises to 88%. The long period of confinement at home in Spain caused by COVID-19 has been used by squatters to illegally enter and stay in properties that would otherwise be frequently occupied, as the owners may have been forced to leave when the state of alarm was declared.

While squatting is technically illegal in Spain, it often appears that the Spanish law protects squatters more than homeowners. The process of removing squatters from your property in Spain can also be considered a crime depending on the circumstances, meaning that getting your property back can be a long and expensive process. This is an important point to keep in mind if you have a holiday home in Spain that is left empty for much of the year.

The Spanish law on squatting has changed in the past few years, claiming that it is now easier for owners to get rid of squatters. However, this law only refers to privately owned properties, not those owned by banks or real estate companies and in 2020, there is still no great legal deterrent for these illegal occupants. There are many legal loopholes when it comes to squatters in Spain. The law states that they can be removed within 48 hours, unless they change the locks, (this is often the first thing the pros will do giving), but in most cases it’s already too late.

Experts and lawyers are calling for further changes in the law to be made to speed up evictions. The General Council of Associations of Property Administrators in Spain is calling for the modification of the law that regulates criminal procedures in order to establish specific measures that can be provisionally agreed upon from the beginning of a criminal complaint, so that the police and security forces can intervene from the first moment that an illegal occupation is detected and reported by the owner. This is in addition to other measures, such as giving more power to town councils so that they can exercise their own powers against the squatters, given that they alter the coexistence in the property and in the neighbourhood, as well as provoking social conflict and generating security problems.

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