How Spain Became a Squatter’s Paradise

For many, squatting is a desperate last resort. For others, it’s a lifestyle choice or political statement. Barcelona, ground zero of the phenomenon, attracts squatters from all over Europe.

By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET:

Since the burst of Spain’s madcap housing bubble in 2009, squatting — the unlawful occupancy of uninhabited buildings or unused land — has become a major problem. By 2019, following a 58% surge in cases in five years, close to 100,000 properties were occupied by okupas (squatters), according to estimates by the Insititut Cerdá. The number does not include dwellings occupied by tenants who have simply stopped paying their rent, since this does not count as squatting.

But Spain’s squatting problem could be about to explode as more and more non-paying tenants lose their homes, and take to squatting. For the past six months tenants of apartments owned by large private landlords or public companies have been protected from eviction by a government ban, but that ban is scheduled to expire at the end of September.

Once that happens, evictions are likely to surge. As in many other countries, it’s not clear how many tenants are not paying their rents since reliable sources of data do not exist. But what data does exist suggest that by late May around 17% of tenants were not paying their rent. If that number is even half accurate, it means Spain will soon see “an alarming spike in evictions”, as the advocacy group Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) has warned. Many of those who are evicted may end up squatting somewhere.

Spain has become a squatter’s paradise for five main reasons:

1. Its huge stock of vacant properties. Spain has a crazy number of empty homes — largely a legacy of the last housing crisis. In the last census, of 2011, the government registered a total of 3.4 million empty residential properties — equivalent to almost a third of all of Europe’s empty housing stock. Since then, the number has gone down but no one knows by how much.

Many of the empty properties belong to bank’s property arms, private equity funds or wealthy investors, many of which are not interested in renting out the properties; they just hold onto them to make money on the capital gains — or at least they did while prices were generally rising, which stopped happening with the lockdown.

Roughly 70% of the properties that were illegally occupied in 2017 belonged to banks or other financial entities, according to the Institut Cerdá. They include dozens of blocks of entirely abandoned buildings that were “reoccupied” by PAH, to accommodate Spain’s burgeoning ranks of homeless families.

For many people, squatting is a desperate last resort, while for some it is a lifestyle choice or a political statement. Barcelona, which is ground zero of Spain’s squatting phenomenon, attracts squatters from all over Europe. In recent years, more and more young locals — including many with jobs — who have been priced out of the rental market or who simply don’t want to pay the inflated rents have also turned to squatting.

As a police officer from Barcelona who specializes in evicting okupas told me, removing squatters from properties belonging to private equity funds is a slow, arduous process, due largely to the difficulty of identifying the actual owner of the property — Blackstone, for example, operates in Spain through dozens of different subsidiaries — and then tracking down a representative with whom to liaise. “This takes up a huge part of our day-to-day work,” he says.

2. Juicy money-making opportunities for enterprising criminals. In recent years, enterprising criminal gangs have begun specializing in locating and breaking into vacant apartments. Once they find a place, they quickly change the locks and rig the apartment to the neighbors’ gas, water and electricity supplies. They then “sell” the flat to a squatter, or group of squatters, for between €1,000-€2,000.

In this way, a burgeoning black market has sprouted up. In the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona, the market is controlled by a gang from the Dominican Republic; they charge around €1,500 for each property “sale.” The squatters get to live in a fully serviced apartment without having to pay rent or utilities for a period of around six months. If the flat in question is owned by a fund and the squatters don’t draw undue attention to themselves and the neighbors don’t cotton on to the fact they are effectively subsidizing their utilities consumption, they can often stay a lot longer.

3. Spanish property law tends to protect squatters more than owners, particularly if the property that has been occupied is not a primary residence. If a squatter occupies a person’s primary residence, he or she can be charged with breaking and entering, for which the punishment is usually a prison sentence of between six months and two years. However, thanks to a change of law in 1995, if a squatter usurps a property that is not being used as a main residence, including sometimes second homes, they are likely to be charged with ocupación (squatting), for which the punishment is generally much lighter, ranging from a few-hundred euro fine to a six-month prison sentence.

4. Slow judicial process. If a property that is not a primary residence is occupied illegally, the owner can take one of two paths. He can go through the civil courts to try to recover the property, which means hiring a lawyer, paying court fees and often waiting a long time. At the very least, the owner can rest assured that at the end of it, he or she will recover the property.

The alternative is to take the penal route, which is free of charge and can sometimes be faster, but the outcome depends largely on the efficacy of the police officers involved. The only chance they have of evicting squatters quickly is if they can prove in next to no time that the property has only just been occupied. But that is easier said than done, especially if they have no access to the property. More often than not, the investigation goes nowhere, leaving the property owner little option but to take the civil route.

In 2018, the government tried to expedite the civil process by introducing an “express eviction” clause that allows affected owners to petition the courts to request the return of the property, while asking the judge to adopt the precautionary measure of eviction prior to sentencing. If granted, the squatters have, in theory, just a few days to either present “sufficient title” to remain or leave the property. In reality, it can take much longer, especially if the squatters in question are a family with children. Also, this process is not available to large-scale private property owners.

5. Spain is no country for tenants. For decades Spain has been a country of home owners. Before the crisis, it had one of the highest home ownership rates in Europe, of more than 80%. At the height of the housing bubble, in 2003-05, around 700,000 homes were being built a year, more than were being built in Germany, France, Italy and the UK combined. When the housing bubble burst, in 2009, over half a million households lost their homes. Many of the newly built houses were never occupied.

Since then, the rental market has taken on a much bigger role, but conditions in the market are not exactly consumer-friendly. Many apartments are barely fit for purpose yet somehow command high rents. In some places (Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga…) rents have soared by over 50% since 2013, while wages have gone nowhere. It’s not just the rents that are prohibitive; so, too, are the upfront fees and deposits tenants have to pay.

After the crisis, many social housing projects were sold off to international funds belonging to Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs and Blackstone. As a result, rented social housing, which normally offers cheaper rents, now makes up just 2% of all residential property in Spain, down from 3.5% in 2005. That compares to 30% in the Netherlands, 24% in Austria, 21% in Denmark and 17% in the UK and France.

Ironically, the right of all Spanish citizens to decent and adequate housing is enshrined in Article 47 of Spain’s 1978 constitution. Yet in large cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca, more and more local residents are finding that such a right no longer exists in the city they were born in. Unless this trend is reversed and as long as Spain’s legal system continues to protect squatters in a way that almost no other country does, many more people will opt to squat. By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET.

“If you discover at a later stage that there was Mafia involvement, how do you undo what you’ve already done?” Read… Unprecedented Stimulus Is Fueling an Explosion of Fraud, Governments Begin to Admit

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  107 comments for “How Spain Became a Squatter’s Paradise

  1. Seneca’s Cliff says:

    The criminal gangs locating, prepping and selling Squats is a fascinating development. It kind of mirrors developments in the larger economy where companies like Facebook locate and prep other people’s property ( identity info, etc.) and then sell it for a profit.

  2. SiT23 says:

    Any story that involves sticking it to a large US multinational is always enjoyable. It does seem that a few peasants are sticking some very small pitchforks at them in this one. Maybe a gang that only finds “tenants” for their flats and not Spanish Mom and Pop ones.

    • MarMar says:

      Yeah, the quote from the police officer seemed odd to me. It appears not that the large corporate owners are complaining and requesting eviction, but rather that the police are proactively trying to find the owners in order to fix the “problem” of otherwise homeless people occupying empty housing.

      All this in a country in which “decent and adequate housing is enshrined in [the] constitution”!

      • During GFC judges sometimes would throw out eviction cases after the mortgage holder (bank) could not prove they held the paper. Ownership had been widely dispersed into MBS. One reason the Fed pushed extend and pretend. History is full of examples where technology altered the existing rule of law. In olde England the church was able to acquire property by virtue of controlling the means of writing and certifying ownership documents on paper, while the peasants who had passed ownership of land down through generations on word of mouth lost all rights.

    • John Taylor says:

      It is weird how skewed our economies have become as governments actively push for higher asset prices while ensuring wages stay low.

      The result: an enormous supply of vacant homes, an enormous number of homeless, and crazy high property values and rents that a large percentage of local workers can’t afford.

      • Richard says:

        We’ve reached the limits of growth – so human beings have devolved into sucking every last dollar out every asset, because they can’t think of any better way to make a return.

      • Thomas says:

        With the world drowning in many decades old national debts do you think governments should raise interest rates and bring down asset prices? What might happen then to the housing market. The world is in an economic downward fall which can be traced back to central banks and governments agreeing with them about the virtues of fiat currency. Virtuous for them alone. Keynesian economics does not have any guaranteed correction mechanism. Do you own gold, or land? Can you feed yourself when it gets ugly?

        • topcat says:

          Keynesian economics has not been practised in the US, UK or Europe since 1970 which is half a century ago. What you are seeing now has nothing whatsoever to do with Keynes and everything to do with Friedman, Rand & Hayek with the help of Thatcher & Regan.

        • robt says:

          To be fair, the simple idea of Keynesian economics was for the government to spend when times were bad and to pay off the debt when times were good.
          The politicians soon ignored the second part, if they ever even cared about it. Spending buys votes.

    • Joe Sucher says:

      Yes and to hear that Blackstone is involved no doubt drives up the Corporate Sleaze Factor: profits by any means necessary

  3. MiTurn says:

    Here in north Idaho we have people camping in the forest. My wife met one such couple from Las Vegas — no money, no plans, no jobs — living in a tent. Cold weather comes quick here…I don’t know what they’re going to do. Not warm like Spain…

    • Harvey Mushman says:

      Here in Southern California when I pass thru Palmdale/Lancaster heading towards the town of Mojave, you can see a bunch of RV’s parked in the desert on the outskirts of town. Over the last year the number has been increasing. Those campers in Idaho will probably head south like the snowbirds.

    • Ridgetop says:

      In the Santa Cruz Mountains, from what I’ve heard some homeless have been setting up camps on unoccupied land. On top of that add in Airbnb owners have been renting out land so people can camp for the week-end. Then you have the “Illegal Labs”. Any of the above increases the likelihood of wildfires.
      In fact 3 years ago a fire was created by two warring neighbors.

      • Frederick says:

        Like at Slab City Crazy tweakers start fires nearly every week and burn out their neighbors Its not a nice existence

      • Don says:

        The ’91 Oakland Hills fire or fire storm in California was caused by a homeless camp fire initially extinguished by the local fire department, or so they thought, but then the winds came up and it reignited, and the rest is history.

        • wkevinw says:

          Don- Exactly right! I remember watching the Oakland fire from ~20 miles away, at first wondering what it could possibly be.

          The bad part about the area up near the top of the hill was (is?) the same for CA forest/tree management: dry vegetation thick and too close to buildings. Just to add to the problem, the roads are very narrow up there. I wonder if it’s all grown back.

  4. Michael Engel says:

    1) If the tenant pay Oct rent, but keep the A/P of the previous months open and promise to pay, there will be no eviction.
    2) If the tenant is evicted, he can get gov housing support that cover
    most of his rent, according to his income. Eviction come first. The gov will do whatever it can to keep people out of the streets.

    • Here is SoCa we have fewer homeless on the streets than we ever had. They bivouack in hotels. The unemployed make more money not working, the homeless problem is solved, the richest Americans are even richer. Why are we even looking for a cure?

      • forreal says:

        Not sure where you live in SoCal but here in Los Angeles the amount of homeless people living on the streets continues to increase exponentially. The pandemic appears to be an accelerant to the crisis. The encampments are massive and popping up in every area of the city.

        • Which leads me to ask, why isn’t the media reporting this? Then I realize, yes, they don’t want people to panic? Oh…

        • Jon says:

          I visit San Diego downtown often and is full of homeless people.
          Honestly, a sad sight.. multi-million dollar condos and homeless people all around

    • Thomas says:

      But what government , where, has any discretionary income? As currencies continue their downward weakness, how can that be a solution.

  5. lenert says:

    A homelessness crisis stuffed inside a vacant housing glut wrapped in a riddle fried in castor oil and dipped.

  6. Raxadian says:

    In Argentina, they have gone beyond just squatting. Lands with no buildings on them are being occupied, houses build on them and people moves there, sometimes in just a few weeks. Once the illegal houses are occupied getting the people out and the houses destroyed is not easy. That already was a problem before quarantine but during quarantine? It has got a lot worse.

    And of course there is squatting too.

    • Thomas Roberts says:

      Building on unoccupied land just shows that they got initiative, if they start taking over land and start building businesses from the ground up, they will become true capitalists. The regular squatters are a bunch of lazy commiies though, at the very least, the squatters should at least start taking over unoccupied business buildings and open up shop.

    • Kurtismayfield says:

      This sound like how the United States came into being.. colonizing unoccupied land… And sometimes it was occupied.

      • michael earussi says:

        That’s pretty much how all countries came into being, by stealing some one else’s land.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Yep, but, those there stole it from someone else (applies everywhere). I don’t see this being taught in schools anytime soon, too conttroversial, but, it’s widely believed with growing evidence that Europeans reached the Americas before Asians. Native Americans have some DNA from past European groups proving this.

      • char says:

        “sometimes”? Every part of the US that is now not an Indian reservation was occupied/claimed… Except the Indian reservations, those lands are to worthless

        • A says:

          Don’t worry, they keep working to find ways to screw native people related to whatever “useless” land they were exiled to. If they can’t take it to use it, there’s a chance to dump something toxic there!

  7. Fat Chewer. says:

    This is the only possible outcome given the nature of economics and finance today. People should not be being priced out of the city they were born in. Poor planning, greedy and lazy developers, seemingly desperate central bank monetary policies, governments that think low interest rates mean a strong economy, gdp and breakneck growth are gods, brokers, agents, investors, and the rest of the RE mafia, flippers, first home buyer grants and such, have all contributed to the mess.

    Galatians 6:7.

  8. char says:

    Spain also builds its homes with stone and very little wood in an environment that is dry. So any building that was left during the civil war is still standing and could in an emergency be used to spend the night. Unlike the wood heavier housing in the US

    • Xabier says:

      The Civil War was a long time ago. ..

      Many entire villages were abandoned, not as a consequence of the war, but in the period of industrialisation and urbanisation from the 1960’s.

      My ancestral village, Zazpe, in the Pyrenees, an very ancient place, more a hamlet really, was abandoned then, as the young no longer wished to endure the hardships of rural life – who can blame them?

      These houses were often well-built, although the poor labourers lived in true, crumbling, hovels, but once the roof has gone, they just collapse. This process has often been hastened by salvage of old tiles, doors and so on.

      Some places have been re-occupied by hippy groups, and one can find them on Youtube as examples of a supposedly cool lifestyle.

      And of course, young upper-bourgeois ‘artists’ , ‘writers’, and the like are fond of renovating old houses for a bit of ‘authenticity’and simplicity.’

      They appear in World of Interiors…..

      Excellent article: the experiences of people who have their houses stolen and wrecked by these parasites are heart-rending: gypsies are, as everywhere, among the worst. They will strip a place bare, fill it with junk, and then crap all over it before being forced out. Lovely people.

  9. Paulo says:

    It’s everywhere and a symptom of plain simple inequality exacerbated by globalism. Boo hoo for the foreign absentee owners. If homeless could only squat in some rich compounds or gated communities…..

    Not all poor folks are undeserving dummies any more than all rich folks have earned their wealth. One needs to look no further than the current leader and family of a despicable person not to be named or risk moderation quarantine. :-)

    With all the AI and machines able to do so much for us, is it unreasonable to expect humans to at least have a warm place to sleep and a roof over their heads? Full bellies?

    Share willingly or share by guillotine. And yes, I agree deadbeats should work. Unfortunately, there are a lot of wealthy deadbeats as well. I had a good friend in high school who was born in a wealthy old English family. He thought poor people were just stupid because he had so much for little effort. In his case he was a very hard worker, he just never ever had to worry about anything, ever.

  10. Javert Chip says:

    Gee. Seems only a year ago Spaniards were less than enamored of tourists.

    A complex filled with squatters ought to do wonders fro property values (just a guess, but squatters probably not really not into home maintenance).

    • Thomas Roberts says:

      The most important thing for property values is to never rent out for reasonable sums. Many big businesses building and buying in key property markets would rather let their properties sit empty and collect nothing in rent, then accept a reasonable rent amount, which suggests the value of the building isn’t as high as they claim (the amount that rent is, factors into property values, even if nobody actually rents it for that amount). Squatters are better than those who expect reasonable rent.

      1. Build/Buy in key markets
      2. Let it sit for awhile rising in value and collect rent if someone can actually come up with an amount that reinforces the property values, otherwise let it sit empty
      3. Profits

      • Engin-ear says:

        I find it amazing that a building may sit idle for years, loosing 2-4% of its value yearly (ageing/destruction by time, taxes and assurance), and then recover all losses and make a profit by selling it.

        How do you call this business activity? Trading?

        • Brian says:

          Hedging monetary inflation. Central banks can’t print more land.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Engin-ear,

          “Rent Seeking” is the catch all term you are looking for. It refers to any type of behavior to make money that overall harms the economy.

      • Frederick says:

        I have a 1 BR in Warsaw in a top location and I rent it below msrket but my tenant is great Always pays and keeps the place meticuously clean Its worth it to me Sleep bettet at night

      • fajensen says:

        In Denmark, the property owners can claim the missing rental income from rental property against taxes.

        What one does is: Buy a shop (because people cannot live in a shop, so lots of rules about tenants go away),

        Hire the thing out to someone (that could be a cousin or company), this establishes the rent, so it should be exorbitant.

        The tenant leaves and the shop is now empty, never to be occupied again due to stupid rent level.

        Ca-ching, now one deduct the totally fictitious loss from other incomes!!

        For every stone one turns, there is something nasty squirming under it!

  11. Fat Chewer. says:

    Hmm, I see the same phenomenon has appeared in the US that we had last summer. For the first time in history, all of our summer fires were started not by natural causes, but by arsonists (read: political activists), and certainly “not by climate change”. They are troll accounts on Twitter set up by our enemies to divide us. Some of the stories I heard last summer was some of the biggest bullshit I have ever heard in my life. It was not believable by anyone with half a brain, but it was seized upon by both both sides to make political hay while our nation burned. Now they have turned their attention to the poor koalas. Run, koala, run!!!

    • MarMar says:

      *lightning strikes

    • char says:

      Every year there are fires by many causes but this year not? That sounds unlikely, especially when California had some very heavy thunderstorms.

      You sound like someone that claims all crop circles are made by aliens

  12. Seneca’s Cliff says:

    On Maui, the locals are using a version of the Spanish Squat selling racket to supplement their incomes during this time of near zero tourism, which they are very much enjoying. The mainland owners of expensive Maui condo’s are now mostly Prevented from staying, renting or checking up on them by scarce flights and strict quarantines. They get generous offers by email from the local”Aloha Society” to protect these vulnerable properties from squatters and vandals for a small fee.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Sounds like a deal :-]

    • MCH says:

      Cause Aloha means both hello and goodbye… seems fitting somehow.

      Mahalo….

    • Xabier says:

      In the end, nearly everywhere is due to become a version of Latin America…..

    • TimTim says:

      Now what was that firm that did well out of Iraq? Blackstone was it?

      Perhaps it’s time to invest in security firms. I’m sure they are going to be getting lots of calls right now.

      Perhaps some will be thinking, if squatters are already there, ‘Lets get some buddies, few ‘tools’, and go have a ‘chat’ with these squatters.’ If the courts are so backed up and aren’t interested, well, they may decide that the risk/reward is more that way than the civil way.

      I in way advocate that approach, by the way. We all know that it is going to happen though.

      I suggest any prospective squatters do due diligence and find out if their new DesRes is owned by people from vodka producing nations. They may be more likely to show up late one evening with more than a hammer and sickle or three.

      • TimTim says:

        I in no way advocate marching down somewhere with buddies and tools, is what I meant to say.

      • Stephen C says:

        Wasn’t it Blackwater, in Iraq? I think they’ve changed their name, though.

        As far as Blackstone being worried about the squatters in Spain, I doubt it. I think they make their money, or expect to, by other means than being proper landlords.

      • sierra7 says:

        Tim Tim
        Not Blackstone…..
        “Blackwater”

  13. Bob says:

    Once the legal system is corrupted and you no longer have property rights it’s game over for property owners.

    • Engin-ear says:

      Legal system is the protection you finance through taxes.

      Its efficiency = taxes – corruption.

      We may blame corruption, but taxes really paid also matter.

      And before legal system was invented, the rights of ownership existed as long as you were able to defend it personally or by a private arrangement.

      • fajensen says:

        Yep. Back in the Viking age, any lasting king was a very generous person, conspicuously giving away most of the loot so people knew it wasn’t worth the bother to get some men and burn his house down over his head!

        • Xabier says:

          But I believe that, in theory at least, you were expected to die for your lord if he fell in battle…..

          As late as the 18th century an English lord built a second smaller house for himself, so as to avoid all the hospitality he had to offer by tradition to tenants and travellers – he left that to the servants.

      • char says:

        You mean collective agreement. Which even apes have. And collective ownership is not the same as ownership

  14. JK says:

    Interesting article! I was in Barcelona in early 2005 and fell in love with this city. In fact, I thought of moving or buying a vacation home and this article is really informative about what could possibly happen. When I read about the housing crash in Spain, I contacted an agent there in Barcelona. The houses were still expensive and the difference between Euro and dollar did not help. I’d still buy something out there.

  15. Kaleberg says:

    It sounds like the taxes are way too low on unoccupied properties. In the old days, if one wanted to play the capital appreciation game, one almost had to build a “taxpayer”, a building much smaller than zoning would allow but that would produce enough rent money to cover property taxes and expenses. Modern landlords are more than happy to carry empty housing on their books because we’ve made it too cheap to do so.

    • Petunia says:

      Paris put a 60% tax on unoccupied apartments. I don’t know if it’s working since the protests are ongoing in the city. Sounds like a good way to get landlords to be tenant friendly.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Sounds like a good idea. But 60% of what exactly?

        • Petunia says:

          It’s 60% tax on the fair market value of rent. They first imposed a 20% tax but that was not enough to induce owners to occupy or rent the apts.

  16. Bobber says:

    Doesn’t Clooney have an empty mansion in Spain?

    • nodecentrepublicansleft says:

      I’ll get a subscription to People Magazine and let you know! :)

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Maybe still, but I think maybe he sold it when he bought the home from Cliff Heinz at Lake Como.
      A friend of Heinz told me that Clooney rode up to the house on a motorcycle, no shave, etc., and rang the door bell and told Heinz he wanted to buy the house; Heinz said it wasn’t for sale. Clooney insisted, so Heinz said, ”OK, $20 MM,” about twice what it was worth at the time.
      Clooney pulled out a checkbook, and wrote out a check, and said his folks would take care of the paper work ASAP, and how soon could Heinz get out.
      Just a third hand account to be sure, and it happened way before Clooney was married of course. Aahhhh, the life of the single!!

  17. George says:

    Actually it’s the capitalist leeches that are occupying people’s dwellings. The insanity of capitalism working exclusively for capital, against everyone else, must be stopped. Foreign invasion and colonization by means of capital movement is a race to the bottom for the vast majority. Late stage capitalism is suicidal for human civilization.

  18. Engin-ear says:

    “Ironically, the right of all Spanish citizens to decent and adequate housing is enshrined in Article 47 of Spain’s 1978 constitution”

    My understanding of this “right” is that you may purchase *and* keep posession of a decent house, even if you do not belong to local nobility or power elite. Providing you have the money.

  19. Mark says:

    Excellent! I’m a Gen X’r whose gone through three major recessions now – the worst affected generation in human history by this financialised monetary madness. After working for close on thirty years as a lawyer in England, Japan, Australia and the Middle East for some of the worlds largest law firms I am still basically homeless only able to rent. Likely to be affected by this recession again, and finally have somewhere to go – here I come, Spain!

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Are you trying to afford a home in Kensington and Chelsea? Obviously you’re not QC. ;-) International law is the most difficult legal career of all. Perhaps aspire to a more modest home?

  20. Frederick says:

    In 1992 I purchased a 16 acre farm at a bankruptcy auction in Sag Harbor NY Driving in after work in s beatup pickup I encountered a squad car. I asked what was wrong and after telli g them that I was the new owner they changed their demeanor and told me they were there to arrest squstters They then ssked me to come to the station to sign the complaint which I did

  21. No1 says:

    I am surprised that the Spanish police bother to evict squatters from private equity property without being asked… do these companies even pay taxes in Spain, so as to cover the cost of that public service? They should hire their own investigators to ensure their properties are squatter-free.

  22. Michael Engel says:

    1) Very interesting article.
    2) Gov need banks and banks need gov to save them during recessions.
    3) 700K/Y apartments were built in Spain until 2009, piling inventory.
    4) There are almost (beyond 2011 peak) 3.4M empty apartments in Spain, but only 100K squatters. There is room to grow.
    5) Squatters from northern Europe with perpetual income are coming
    to Spain, with their cash flow. Many work in the black market.
    6) The squatters invade properties that belong to banks and other
    financial entities. The gov prevent the banks from throwing the squatters to the streets. Capitalism is dead in Spain.
    7) Rented social housing, which normally offer cheaper rent, are now
    making only 2% of the housing in Spain.
    8) Messi stays in Barca.
    9) China empty ghost towns.

    • Lynn says:

      China doesn’t need to go to war with anyone. They can collapse economies by producing more ghost towns all over the world. And peer pressure others to do the same.

  23. Area Man says:

    Another factor exacerbating this situation is the high number of newly unemployed people from the 2020 tourism decrease. Roughly 14% of Spain’s GDP is tourism. Spain currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU.

    • TimTim says:

      ’bout time for Spanish banks to begin merging to hide bad loans/mortgages/other bad behaviour that smells. In time for the state to take them or their bad debt over next year or the year after that.

      Oh, wait….

  24. A says:

    When the government and the rich conspire to bleed the middle class dry, defying the laws is the only ethical thing to do.

    • YuShan says:

      It feels more and more like a French Revolution type of event is fast approaching. But we are not going to like that end result either.

      • sierra7 says:

        Yu Shan:
        At least the wagons bearing the condemned to the guillotine will have rubber tires; those during the French Rev. were terribly noisy going over the cobblestones!
        “Madame Lefarge” also will now have a “smart-phone” to “Tweet” and video the proceedings!

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        It’s not the French Revolution that troubled me. It’s the ideologies that came with the Terrors for years afterwards.

  25. YuShan says:

    Spain is really a weird situation, because it actually has a surplus in housing. Still, people are squatting because rents are not affordable relative to incomes. Something is really broken.

    This should be easy to solve, for example by a hefty tax on empty properties, such that landlords are forced to lower the rent to realistic levels, or just sell the property at a price that somebody can afford to pay.

    Many countries have a genuine housing shortage, but Spain is not one of these. It tells you a lot about how f*cked up the economy is thanks to all the central bank bubble blowing that even in Spain with a surplus in houses people are forced to squat.

    • Lynn says:

      We have the same thing. You can easily search for it. More and more people are becoming aware of that and getting very angry.

  26. Charles Sanils says:

    Great Article as always, Wolf.

  27. Norma Lacy says:

    Seneca Interesting point. Thank you. If Chertoff et. al have their way we will soon be national IDed, chipped, branded and sold to the highest bidder. A new Comex day trading opportunity.

  28. Rosebud says:

    Spain’s important right now, to see where it’s all going. Hernan Cortez is a double 33. No wonder he evicted the Aztecs. Columbus invented the internet. Clooney is a 1961 Taurus and had Bells Palsy when he was 15. Just taking a few notes here.

  29. KGC says:

    Most of that empty property is held by banks and large corporations, and they cannot sell, rent, or lease it at anything like fair value because they have borrowed against the “set” prices. If those property values drop they go underwater on their loans. And the banks can’t do that because they’ve been propping up those values to show as profits for so long they would be shown to be insolvent.

    As we all have seen the EU and individual country and State governments will not let those banks go under, so it’s impossible from a political aspect for that bubble to pop. When it does there’s going to be some very interesting change, not the least worrying is the possible dissolution of the EU. It’s been 20 years now that this problem has been known as regards Spain and Italy but the can keeps getting kicked down the street.

    The sad part is that a large number of those “unoccupied” dwellings are vacation homes, rarely owned by the “rich”, and used 2-3 months a year for vacations. Countries like Spain and Portugal promoted this as a way to keep tourist dollars the same way places like Lake of the Ozarks, Orange Beach, or the Hamptons do in the USA. It brings a dependable, seasonal, income to the local economy. Squatters invading those places aren’t leading a protest that hurts some anonymous corporation, they’re destroying the hard earned assets of the middle class and depriving locals of their livelihood.

  30. Anthony says:

    The British Government must have seen all this coming because they changed the law for residential property…So……….Squatting in residential properties is against the law and you can be arrested. If you are found guilty you can be sent to prison, fined or both. You can also be charged if you damage the property, for example, breaking a window to get in.

  31. David Hall says:

    Florida homeless camped in dense jungle thickets with high humidity, monsoonal rains and biting insects.

    Vacation homes are counted as vacant, if people lived in them less than six months of a year.

    Am not sure when forebearance for rent and mortgage payments will end.

  32. William says:

    The squatter problem of Barcelona is incomprehensible to me, living in Hong Kong and not having much background knowledge about Spain. I have the following questions, which I hope can be answered by people who have the knowledge.
    (1) These properties are presumably multi-storey buildings or clusters of smaller buildings. Why are they not guarded and cordoned off to prevent trespassing and then squatting?
    (2) When it is plainly clear that housing prices are falling or there is no hope of going up, why don’t these investors sell the properties, or rent them out at lower rates, to at least have one less problem on their hands?
    (3) If Spain was 80% home owners and 20% renters (all with somewhere to live and not sleeping on the street) during the bubble, the investors must have been expecting lots of people from outside Spain going to move to Spain. Where did they think these people would come from, and what incentives were there to motivate them to do that?
    (4) Any investors who have speculatively invested in these properties which they have not been able to sell or rent out, and with the properties now being occupied by squatters who are likely to cause lots of harmful consequences are obviously in an untenable situation. Does it mean that lots of them will eventually cut their losses by selling cheaply?

    • YuShan says:

      Regarding (3), isn’t this similar to China, where they build appartement towers just for investment, not to live in? I was told (by Chinese) that they deliberately leave them empty because they can then be sold (flipped) to the next speculator als “new” so increase more in price. Most people cannot afford to live in these towers anyway because their incomes are way too low.

    • Nick Corbishley says:

      William,

      In response to your questions:

      1) Yes, Spain is a country where people tend to live on top of each other in buildings of between three and nine stories, villages being the general exception to the rule. Many of the apartments that end up being occupied by squatters are in perfectly normal buildings that are largely occupied by owners or tenants. Twenty or 30 years ago, many of these buildings had porteros (consierges) who kept a close eye on the comings and goings of non-residents, but many have disappeared.

      2) After the bubble collapsed, the banks ended up repossessing many flats and houses and amassing huge portfolios of impaired real estate assets they didn’t really want. But they also knew that if they offloaded the properties all at once, the prices would crash a lot lower, leaving their balance sheets even worse for wear. Instead, they released batches of properties little by little, mostly to foreign investment funds.

      3) While quite a lot of Spanish real estate, particularly on the coast and in the big cities, was being snapped up by foreign investors, the bubble had taken on a life of its own by the end of its lifespan, as bubbles tend to do. I will always remember visiting Huesca, a small city in Aragon (population: 50,000), in 2004 and seeing dozens of cranes dotting the landscape. Over dinner in a nice restaurant, I mentioned to my hosts that the city must be growing pretty quickly given all the cranes. “No”, they said, “the population is actually declining.”

      4) Some investors, particularly the banks and funds, do end up offloading, on the cheap, properties that have been occupied by squatters. This has given rise to intermediaries who specialise in buying up batches of properties, then trying to remove the squatters (normally by offering them financial inducements), then doing up the property and finally selling them on at a nice little profit.

      • William says:

        Thank you Nick for all the info.

        I think people on the whole are not stupid, but are selfish. When we see something that seems stupid, that seems to be ridiculous, that cannot be explained by logic, it is because we don’t see the logic behind the phenomenon.

        People who do something have reasons for doing what they did. I hope you can continue to tell us more.

  33. Michael Engel says:

    1) RE provide income for life.
    2) if u try to sell an occupy apartment or a house with a constant FCF during a good RE market, the tenant have incentive to torpedo the sale.
    3) Appointments will be cancelled or delayed, the place will noisy and look like a mess.
    4) When the RE agent will show your property to a customer,
    the tenant will spy on them to learn dates, prices and about his fate. The tenant will interrupt, try do to prevent higher rent, or being forced to look for another place in a booming RE market.
    5) The owner and the buyer have to settle with the tenant, before the final transaction is done.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      RE provide an inflating tax burden for life. A debt to government that can never be extinguished. Just thought I’d point out one of the downsides. As billionaire James Goldsmith pointed out, if you want out of a RE investment you have to put up a For Sale sign and wait.

  34. Víctor says:

    The extreme left governs the Barcelona city council. And they treat squatting with a certain benevolence, almost justifying it. “Poor citizens who have no alternative in life but to squat.” Which has made the squatting out of control. And yes, the laws are not harsh on squatters and justice is very slow. It can take up to two years to evict a squatter family.

  35. Smitty says:

    “it’s not clear how many tenants are not paying their rents since reliable sources of data do not exist”

    Interesting quote, I see the Rentier Bolchevixks in Spain are also exempt from income taxes, time for an abolition of the feckless income tax replaced by a rent revenue tax.

    Americans will never see Trumps nor Kushners income tax records because of the paltry sums they legally pay, the world is being played by those that make the rules and they are not yooz.

  36. jon says:

    My friend in CA has her job in June. Her extra $600/week has stopped. The unemployment check of $1800/month in San Diego, she is barely able to make ends meet and she has two kids.
    I have asked her to stop paying rent. She has stopped paying rent till she gets a good paying job and would pay back when and if she can.

    Anyone out of job should not pay even a dime towards the debt..
    The creditors took a risk, let them suffer

  37. A says:

    When there are homeless people in a country, people who cannot afford adequate, safe housing — there should not be ONE SINGLE HOME that is empty just to avoid the “hassle” of humans living in it, and so it can instead gain in “value” while someone writes it off on taxes!

    Face it, the rules are immoral. It is not ethical for people to starve because they don’t have money, while food is wasted. It is not ethical for people to be homeless while houses sit empty…for money.

    If these problems can’t be changed by the government, what do we have but workarounds? When the system is entirely corrupt, what is left?

    I don’t think it should be burned to the ground and start fresh. I think it should be fixed. A reasonable system would provide incentives (I think it’s time for sticks not carrots, frankly) so that buildings don’t sit empty while people are homeless.

    Housing should not be casinos and savings accounts. Pick something else to gamble on and hoard! Everyone can see this is wrong.

  38. Benidorm humanity says:

    Good to see people taking over. To the rich – get a life. Most of us barely have one. I am all for more and more power to the people. The sooner that shift takes hold the better. No more benefits to the wealthy when they practically own the planet. NO MORE!

  39. Lynn says:

    That’s too bad gangs are selling access to empty housing. In the US we have a group called Homes not Jails that will procure empty housing for people for free. They’re underground and not as noticeable in some areas. They tend to be more under the radar when families with children are involved.

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