SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

PROPERTY

Okupas: What’s the law on squatting in Spain?

In recent years the Spanish squatting movement ‘Okupa’ has been on the rise. But with new legalisation aimed to remove squatters faster, what exactly is the law on squatting in Spain?

LAW SQUATTING SPAIN
Okupas can be found across Spain but the regions that tend to have the most are Catalonia far ahead, followed by Madrid and Andalusia. AFP PHOTO/CESAR RANGEL (Photo by CESAR RANGEL / AFP)

Squatting has long been a controversial issue in Spain.

Some point to the more than 3 million empty properties across Spain and the cost-of-living crisis as reasons to be more understanding when people can’t pay the rent.

Yet Spain’s ‘okupa’ movement is much more than that, with organisations intent on exploiting legal loopholes, or individuals who own their own properties which they rent out to others whilst they occupy ones that don’t belong to them.

Unfortunately, Spain’s evictions drama, which largely stems from people who can no longer pay their mortgages, has become mixed up with the country’s squatting problem.

Critics say the Spanish law abandons property owners and that there are too many legal obstacles which hinder squatters’ speedy eviction.

In the ten years from 2001 to 2011, the number of empty homes in Spain increased by 336,943 (an increase of 10.8 percent) to stand at 3.4 million according to the latest data available from the INE’s Population and Housing Census.

But as the number of empty houses increases, so has illegal squatting.

It’s hard to be certain about how many properties exactly are currently occupied in Spain, as squatting is a clandestine act and there isn’t a record of how many properties have been reclaimed by owners. According to interior ministry data, more than 10,000 homes have been illegally occupied every year since 2015. In 2021, it reached a record 17,274 cases.

Some studies point to a slight decrease in the first half of 2022, others to continuingly high figures. What’s clear is that squatting is an ongoing problem in Spain, with an average 49 reported cases a day.

Okupas can be found across Spain but the regions that tend to have the most are Catalonia far ahead, followed by Madrid, Andalusia, the Valencia region and the Canary Islands.

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

The law

The occupation of someone else’s property does constitute a crime in Spain, as established in article 245 of Spain’s Penal Code: “Whoever occupies, without due authorisation, a property, dwelling or building belonging to someone else and which does not constitute their residence, or remains in the property against the will of the owner, will be punished with up to three to six months of prison”.

However, sentences in Spain under two years usually don’t result in actual prison time, which doesn’t act as a dissuasion for okupas.

Spanish law also differentiates between 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.

And yet, the devil is in the details.

If the okupación is reported within 48 hours and it is the first home of the owner, police officers may evict the squatters without the need for a court order. However, if more than 48 hours have passed and it’s a second home, things get more complicated.

The first 48 hours of ‘okupación’ are crucial to determine whether a proprietor will need a court order to return to their property. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)

Squatters are often familiar with the law and use the principle of inviolability of the home to plead their case. By changing the locks they legally enforce this, as not even the owner can enter without a court order.

The squatters have the upper hand in this sense; if the true owners break in, the okupas can sue them, and if the proprietors don’t pay the bills, they’ll go on a defaulters’ list. They’ll use other tricks such as having goods ordered to the address to prove that it’s their morada (dwelling) and having minors at the property to strengthen their legal protection.

In the meantime, all the owners can technically do is open legal proceedings against the squatters by placing a complaint (civil or penal) and proving that the property is indeed theirs and the squatters aren’t unfairly treated tenants or similar.

If you hadn’t guessed already, having your home occupied by squatters in Spain can work out to be a legal nightmare that lasts months, dare we say longer.

The Local Spain has written in detail about how homeowners in Spain can prevent this from happening to them.

Europe’s worst?

Experts say that Spanish property owners are among some of the worst protected in Europe.

According to Arantxa Goenaga, partner and lawyer at Círculo Legal Barcelona, “if we compare with the rest of the European Union, the situation in Spain is worse and much more unfavourable for the owner, not only because the judicial procedures are slower but also because greater protection measures are adopted for vulnerable citizens without any measure that favours the owners.”

Homeowners and legal experts alike have complained about the complicated legal structures surrounding squatting and evictions. Often, this means squatters are allowed to stay for months – even years – while the legal process is underway.

Fortunately for homeowners, the Spanish government is trying to do something about this.

2022 changes to the law

On October 5th, the governing party PSOE received plaudits for making changes to the Code 544 of the Law of Criminal Procedure to speed up evictions of squatters within a maximum period of 48 hours.

However, the new speedy evictions relate only to “trespassing or usurpation of real estate” and not those pre-existing tenants who simply stop paying rent and refuse to leave the property.

This second method, of simply refusing to pay rent and staying, is the most common method of squatting in Spain, accounting for around 70 of all cases, according to the lobby group La Plataforma de Afectados Ocupación.

This means that though the government’s measure is a positive step for homeowners, it does little to tackle the majority of squatting cases in Spain. It may speed up some evictions, but will likely do little to speed up or resolve the lengthy ongoing legal battles many property owners find themselves in.

Squatters in Spain often use the principle of inviolability of the home to increase their legal protection. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

What should I do if squatters move into my home?

The first 48 hours are crucial if your home or second home is illegally occupied.

If you can prove that squatters moved into your property within this two-day period, you can take the matter to the police and they can evict the okupas without a warrant.

If 48 hours have elapsed and the squatters have changed the lock, you will require a warrant and that’s when the legal ordeal begins.

You will have to file a request for eviction (demanda civil de deshaucio) and the judge will set a time and a date for you and the squatters to appear in court. Crucially, many okupas refuse to identify themselves or attend proceedings, which effectively stalls the process.

If any of the occupants are minors or vulnerable people, the judge is more likely to side with the squatters.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

SPANISH LAW

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

The Spanish government has passed a draft bill that seeks to beef up the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, addressing everything from prostitution to arranged marriages and organ trafficking.

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

On November 29th, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a draft law aimed at tackling human trafficking.

The law, known as la ley de trata (or anti-trafficking law) will bolster measures against sexual exploitation, forced and arranged marriages, slavery, forced labour, organ and tissue removal, and situations where vulnerable people are forced to engage in criminal activity.

Spain’s Justice Minister, Pilar Llop, said that the law will protect “people who suffer a lot in our country and also in other countries around the world,” strengthening the fight against trafficking mafias and organised crime groups to “break the business chain that is generated using human beings as commodities.”

The law will, among other things, create a national plan for the prevention of trafficking, protection and privacy protocols, a compensation fund for victims, social, health and financial support, and increase awareness of the problem at the educational level.

A particular focus of the legislation will be on minors, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – groups thought to be most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Prostitution in Spain

Many cases of human trafficking in Spain result in sexual exploitation, but there exists no single law that deals directly with prostitution in Spain. Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995, though its related activities, such as pimping, trafficking, and sexual exploitation are still illegal.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on prostitution in Spain?

Although the clandestine nature of the sex work makes accurate data hard to find, according to a 2011 UN report, Spain is the third biggest centre for prostitution in the world, behind only Thailand and Puerto Rico.

In 2016, UNAIDS estimated that over 70,000 prostitutes were working in Spain, but some estimates put that number as high 350,000.

It is believed that 80 percent of them are foreigners, with many reportedly coming from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Morocco and eastern Europe.

If the draft law is finally approved, its sexual exploitation clauses would include prison sentences of up to eight years for procurers such as pimps or madams.

Customers of prostitutes that have been forced to be sexual workers could also face fines and prison sentences of between six months and four years.

The Spanish government wants prostitution banned in its current form in Spain.

Forced labour

Clearly, the ley de trata will hope to combat some of the sexual exploitation of women in Spain, but the anti-trafficking legislation is more far-reaching than that and is also intended to tackle forced labour and slavery – two big but underreported problems in Spain.

According to the U.S State Department’s 2022 report on human trafficking in Spain, “labour trafficking is under-identified in Spain. Authorities report the pandemic increased worker vulnerabilities and contributed to the rise in labour trafficking in 2020 and 2021, especially in agriculture, domestic work, and cannabis cultivation in Catalonia.”

“In 2022, Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine, are vulnerable to trafficking. Labour traffickers continue to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe and South and East Asia, particularly Pakistan, in the textile, construction, industrial, beauty, elder care facilities, and retail sectors.”

It should be said, however, that the report also notes that “the government of Spain fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and kept it in its Tier 1 of nations.

What does Spain’s anti-trafficking law include?

  • National Trafficking Plan

The law will create a protocol to coordinate the immediate referral of trafficked persons to specialised services, which will be overseen by a National Rapporteur on Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings run through Spain’s Interior Ministry, according to the Spanish government website.

The rapporteur will oversee anti-trafficking policy and represent Spain in the international arena, a role considered crucial as human trafficking is often a cross border, international problem.

  • Education

According to Article 7 of the law, efforts will also be made to improve educational awareness of the problems of trafficking and exploitation with a focus on human rights, sexual education, and democratic values.

  • Social, labour, and health support

A ‘Social and Labour Insertion Plan’ will be created for victims of trafficking and exploitation that provides social, health and employment support for victims.

This could include housing access, physical, psychological and sexual health support, employment opportunities, and financial assistance for victims and their family members.

  • Tightening labour market regulation

As trafficked and exploited people are so often brought in from abroad (and often dependent on the traffickers themselves for housing, food, money and so on) the regulation of migrant worker recruitment will be tightened through beefed up surveillance and labour standards.

  • Compensation fund

A compensation fund – the Fund for the Compensation of Victims of Trafficking and Exploitation (FIVTE) – will also be created, and will be taken from state budgets, as well as money or goods confiscated from convicted traffickers.

  • Protection and privacy

The anti-trafficking law will also provide protection services and maintain the victim’s right to privacy, protect their identity, access to free legal advice and even offer a living income.

According to Article 36 of the bill, victims trafficked from abroad will have the right to voluntary and assisted return to their country of origin. If they were brought illegally into Spain and don’t have official documentation, the Spanish government will issue them with the appropriate papers needed for travel as well as provide them with the option of residency.

SHOW COMMENTS