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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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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.