Scenario: You go on holiday and enjoy seven fun-filled days with your family and return home with the usual feelings of renewed interest in life mixed with dread as you know you have to go back to work the following day. You open the front door and begin to wheel your suitcase in but to your surprise, somebody else is now living in YOUR home! Congratulations, you now have an Okupa!
Okupa is the Spanish term for a squatter which in recent years seems to have become a full-on epidemic infecting the entire country. Here on the island, we are experiencing this problem more and more frequently. You would think it would be easy to kick an illegal squatter from your home but astonishingly, this is not the case; in fact, the complete opposite is true, squatters seem to have RIGHTS! Justice is always slower than it should be in these cases and the problem is so widespread, people (mainly banks protecting properties under their umbrella) actually invest in special anti-Okupa doors to try to prevent these pests from invading their properties and there are even a number of companies whose purpose is to evict Okupas from people’s homes but on occasion their methods have been called into question.
Now, I know last month’s issue also discussed property matters but given the recent incident in Morro Jable, I think it is a matter that warrants discussion. What can you do if you “inherit” an Okupa? What are YOUR rights?
According to the Spanish Constitution, everybody has the right to a dignified home, but does that mean that others have the right to illegally occupy people’s homes others have worked so hard for? Hardly, but at the same time, it is not as easy as it should be to evict a person who has no legal claim (rental contract) to a property.
The best place to start is to send an official notification such as a burofax which may help further down the line before the Courts if they still refuse to vacate the property. The next step would be to engage a solicitor to begin legal proceedings against the squatter and declare that they are not paying rent in any shape or form because it is always presumed rent is being paid if the property is occupied. After the Courts admit the proceedings, a verbal hearing is called in preparation for the ruling in which the petitioner’s complaint is heard. If the ruling is favourable, the defendant would be ordered to abandon the property within twenty days of being notified (period in which the ruling can be appealed) and possible compensation for damages.
If the squatter does not comply after the twenty-day period, the petitioner may make an executive request to “execute” the judge’s ruling, after which a date is set for an inevitable eviction. Recovery of the property may be voluntary where the keys are voluntarily handed over or by force where a locksmith may be needed to access the property. The Judicial Commission will draw up documents detailing the state of the property so that the owner can take further civil or penal action against the squatter for damages.
The legal process could take twenty days if the squatter complies and leaves voluntarily, however, things can take a nasty turn if they refuse to abandon the property and this is where the law completely fails the innocent party because it could mean waiting between eight and twelve months for a resolution.
At the start of the article, I used the word “epidemic” and I say this because latest statistics estimate that approximately 87.500 people in Spain occupy properties illegally. Far from being ignorant on the matter, the majority know the law inside out and with the help of a Manual that has been posted online (yes, a Manual) others are shown exactly how to plan and get away with their illegal practice for as long as possible. They get around obvious issues by knowing that the police are not permitted to enter the chosen property unless the squatters have been caught in the act or they hold a court order which in the end only serves to makes them more and more bold and pushes property owners to take more drastic action outside of the law.
What are possible causes for the surge in squatters in Spain in recent years. In my humble opinion, it boils down to four main factors:
- Lack of employment
- Lack of available and accessible properties both to rent and to buy
- Lack of social housing
- Lack of morals and respect for others (we should all be tolerant and free to do what we want as long but only if it works in my favour!)
This last point is of particular interest because once again, Spain is at the back of the line in Europe when it comes to the number properties designated as social housing; a mere 2,5% in Spain in comparison to an average of 15% in the rest of Europe. In this regard however, a number of Spanish banks, namely, Banco Santander, BBVA, Caixabank, Bankia, Banco Sabadell, Bankinter, Kutxabank, ING, Deutsche Bank, Grupo Cooperativo Cajamar, Caja Rural de Granada and Bantierra have been called on for assistance by offering part of their assets as social housing with a dedicated website, www.fondosocialdeviviendas.es offering approximately 2.000 houses.
The current problem surging across the country is not an easy fix as it requires a conscientious effort by the Government and Law Courts to tighten up on legislation to actually protect home owners from living a twelve-month nightmare as their own homes are held for ransom.