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OKUPAS: Squatters In Spain Expat Tips

Squatters or ‘Okupas’ as they are known here in Spain are a major problem.

If you own a second home here that you use for your holidays, you could be at risk of having it illegally occupied.

In 2020, the number of illegal occupations in Spain increased by 2.7% on 2019 with 14,675 people reporting that they had become the victims of squatting.

Between 2015 and 2019, the number of illegal occupations grew significantly with a 40% increase in the number of registered complaints.

It is unknown what the true number is, however, the Spanish press put the figure at around 100,000. This is in comparison to around 20,000 cases in the UK where the offence comes with a hefty fine of £5,000 and/or a six-month prison sentence.

According to statistics from Spain’s Secretary of State for Security, nearly half of all illegal occupations were in Catalonia where 6,647 complaints were registered. Next came Andalusia with 2,372 complaints followed by Madrid with 1,316. The Valencian Community has also had its fair share with 1,297 illegal occupations registered in 2020.

One of the main problems which has helped to increase the number of illegal occupations is the large number of empty properties in the country. It is estimated that there are more than 3.4 million homes sitting empty. This obviously presents a big opportunity for squatters.

For those with second homes, it is a worrying trend that has only been exacerbated further by the global pandemic which saw many properties left empty due to travel restrictions.

Another major issue is that squatters in Spain often appear to have more rights than those in other countries. This has the effect of slowing down the eviction process, making it harder for the owner to quickly recover what is rightfully theirs.

Furthermore, some squatters even have the audacity to sell the property to other squatters. Some are believed to make thousands of euros with such transactions.

Squatting is a real issue that has divided Spaniards. Many consider squatting as an abhorrent crime where others feel that it is a result of the country’s housing crisis with younger people finding it harder to get onto the housing ladder in a legitimate way.

Others feel that many Okupas merely see it as a way of life.

With the numbers on the rise, it’s important that you understand not only the procedure in dealing with any possible scenario but just as importantly, how to prevent it from happening in the first place so you don’t become the next victim.

Below we tackle the issue providing you with information on how to react to someone illegally occupying your home but more importantly, how to secure your property to keep the squatters out.

We also discuss the rights of the owner and the squatters. Yes, sadly they do have rights...

Is squatting a crime in Spain and what are my rights?

It is important to understand the legal ramifications of having your property occupied by squatters in Spain.

Firstly, Spanish law expressly states that it is a crime to illegally occupy another person’s property.

Article 245 of Spain’s Penal Code states, “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, the reality is somewhat different for many who have found their properties occupied by Okupas with the average legal process said to take anything between 9 and 18 months to resolve.

Also, sentences under two years rarely result in someone actually going to prison, so this doesn’t act as much of a deterrent to squatters.

Another key issue is that in Spanish law there is a difference between “usurpación” (illegal seizure of something without the right) and “allanamiento de morada” (breaking and entering), and if a property is unoccupied the former very rarely applies.

In Spain, it is up to the judge to decide how serious the offence is and whether entering an empty property (usurpación) is a crime and if it should be punishable or not.

Astonishingly, in some cases, squatters can even be given the same rights as owners!

How can I protect my property from squatters?

There are a number of things you can do to prevent squatters from targeting your property in Spain.

  • Rent your property out - Properties that sit empty for long periods of time such as holiday homes are a prime target for Okupas. Therefore, where possible, it is advisable to rent the property out so it is not empty for long periods. This not only protects your asset but also provides you with a financial benefit.
  • Start the rental process asap - If you do decide to rent your property out for a longer period of time, start the process as soon as you can so that agents can begin to show potential tenants the property. This will serve to help deter potential squatters who may see people at the property.
  • Install an alarm - This is one of the best solutions to protect your home. Not only is an alarm a visual deterrent for squatters, but many can also be linked to the police or a security company who can then respond quickly to any potential break-in. This is even more important when you consider that reporting any illegal entry within the first 48 hours is so crucial in the process of evicting any intruders.
  • Home automation equipment - Another thing you can do is to give your property the appearance that it is inhabited. To do this, the home rental negotiating agency Agencia Negociadora recommends installing home automation devices or domotics. These allow timers to turn lights on or off at certain times, turn the TV on and off or open blinds and curtains.
  • Flowers and plants - A great tip is to have flowers or plants prominently placed around the property such as potted plants and hanging baskets which will require regular watering. See if you can get a friend or neighbour to water them regularly for you to make it look like someone at the property is maintaining them.
  • Do not put up for sale/rental signs - It is advisable not to have these outside the property when nobody is there. This will just alert squatters that the property is possibly empty and provide them with an opportunity.
  • Social Media - Avoid advertising to the world that you are going away or suggest that your home or property will be left empty.
  • Keep personal belongings at the property - If you keep a certain amount of personal belongings at the property if someone breaks in, it will look more like trespassing than usurpation. The legal process to evict someone for usurpation is a much more complicated process. Where possible, try to not leave the property completely empty.

new technique that Okupas and burglars have started to use to monitor a property is to place a tiny string of glue between the door and door frame. They will then return after a few days to see whether the string has been broken or not.

They can then determine if someone has entered the property or not within this time frame.

If you have a friend or neighbour looking after your property, make sure they check for this along with other signs that someone may be monitoring the property.

What should I do if squatters move into my property?

If your Spanish property is illegally occupied, the first 48 hours are crucial.

If they break in and stay in the property for 48 hours or more and it is undisputed, you will then have a major legal battle to get them out. This will not only be time-consuming but also potentially very expensive.

If within 48 hours you report it to the police, you have a much greater chance of them acting quickly and evicting the Okupas. If they are notified within 48 hours, a warrant to evict the squatters will not be required.

Once the squatters have entered the property and had the chance to change the locks and move their own belongings in, it will look less like they are squatting and more like they genuinely live there. They will then have squatters rights which will mean a lengthy legal process will ensue to get them out.

Another issue is that you will need to continue to pay the utility bills while the squatters are still present at the premises. If you attempt to cut them off, the squatters could potentially report YOU to the police for coercion or intimidation.

After 48 hours you will need to file an eviction claim with the courts or ‘Demanda Civil de Desahaucio’. This will mean that a judge would then need to set aside a time and date for both the owner and the squatters to appear in court to settle the issue.

However, in most cases, it is unlikely that the squatter will attend any court proceedings.

If the judge decides to rule in favour of the plaintiff, the squatters can then be forcibly evicted by the police.

If the property in question is the person’s main residence, court cases are generally a lot quicker than they would be if it was a second home. This is why Okupas will primarily target holiday homes as the legal process to evict them is a lot longer.

Legal expenses to evict a squatter from your property can easily end up costing the owner around €3,000.

Alternative Options

There are other ways to deal with any potential squatters.

One way would be to monitor the squatters activities and then once they have left the property to immediately get a locksmith to change the locks allowing you to recover what is rightfully yours.

Another method that is suggested is to contact the police and inform them that there is a burglar in your home rather than squatters. This means that the police are more likely to access the property by force and remove the squatters.

One suggestion that is within the limits of Spain’s legal system is to employ the services of an anti-squatting agency.

One such firm is Desokupa, a muscle-bound Barcelona firm that not only looks the part but also knows how to legally deal with the squatters. At the time of writing, their website claims that since 2016, they have successfully recovered more than 6,450 properties throughout Spain.

If their strong-arm tactics are unsuccessful, they can also negotiate a financial settlement with the squatters in order to get them to agree to vacate the property.

Image Credit: Johannes Wünsch from Pixabay