Okupas — the Spanish Squatter Movement. Everything you need to know

Who are “okupas”? Do you have to worry about your property in Spain? Is it legal to squat houses and how to avoid it? Read this article to learn more about squatters and how to protect landlord rights.
"Okupas" is thе first word that scares thоsе who seek to buy property in Spain. During the quarantine discussions on this topic began to appear more often in social networks and media. What is it, how widespread is it in Spain, and what is the chance to lose your home because of the squatters? Let's have a closer look at this problem.
Hand opening the door
Photo: George Bekker, Pexels

1. Who are the "okupas" and where do they come from?

Let's start with the history of this phenomenon. In its modern form, okupas appeared after the socially-oriented Spain adopted laws designed to protect the rights of tenants going through difficult economic situations. During the financial crisis of 2008, citizens were allowed to stay in, even without being able to pay for their housing. It was possible to evict such a "tenant" only by court order with huge time costs.

Suddenly, this right has been used not by law-abiding Spaniards experiencing temporary difficulties, but by marginalized groups and "uncovered" migrants. Many of them did not even have a legal status in Spain. And the word "okupas" (from the verb "ocupar" in Spanish - capture, occupy) became synonymous with the phenomenon.

In Europe and America, squatters (people who occupy empty buildings) also exist. Still, the Spanish version of squatting has become a symbol of the absurdity of laws designed to protect citizens. Although you can see many striking examples in other European countries as well: from the independent area of Christianity in the Danish capital, "state in the state", to Berlin squatting – housing occupied by artists.

The system in Spain has developed strangely: legal homeowners could not dispose of their property, while they cover someone else's utility bills, bearing the financial costs and moral losses. Courts of eviction could last for years, and if there were children in the family of squatters, the owner of the property almost lost the opportunity to have his property back. Luckily, it all began to change.
Calling man
This issue could not be solved without the intervention of the authorities. In June 2018, Law 5/2018 on "Forced Eviction" was adopted. Under this law, the owner of the property (an individual or a non-profit organization) was entitled to an expedited hearing of cases of illegal occupation of residential property in a civil court.

When the legal owner of the property applies to the court, the judge must issue a ruling and give okupas five days to provide documents confirming the legality of their stay in the occupied premises. If such materials are not offered, eviction happens immediately. Also, amendments have been made to the criminal and procedural law. Now you can apply to the police without giving names of squatters. Previously it was required to specify personal data, which okupas were not going to unveil.

2. Which real estate is at risk?

Statistics show that Barcelona and Madrid have the highest number of reported okupas cases of capturing apartments and houses, cities with many immigrants. Other regions are not insured against squatters. Nevertheless, actions of okupas are rational – they choose the least protected places.

  • Analyze the area
First of all, one should look at the well-being of the area. The higher the standard of living, the less likely it is that someone else will move into the apartment or house. Very cheap options in ghetto areas often have its "surprise".

Secondly, pay attention to the neighbours and the level of infrastructure around. A lonely house, majority of empty apartments in a building, should alert you. If you have neighbours near you whom you may talk to, your investment property or vacation house will be safer during your absence.

  • Learn statistics
The Spanish Association of Property Appraisers name the risk of okupas in the area where the property is located over the next six years as one of the criteria for evaluating the property. So it is useful to look at the statistics and valuation not only in terms of price.
Colorful district
Choosing the right area will help protect against okupas
  • Choose trustworthy sellers
Okupas find it easier to stay in houses owned by banks and legal entities. The law actively protects citizens' rights, while corporations, developers and banks prefer to deal with squatters with the help of lawyers. Therefore, when choosing a house or apartment to buy, we recommend that you pay attention to offers like "cheap real estate from the bank". As a rule, in addition to "cheap", you will receive a pack of illegal residents to deal with yourself.

If you choose your own house or apartment using popular aggregator services such as Idealista, Fotocasa, Milanuncios and Spanish other websites, please contact us for professional advice to avoid fatal mistakes. We will help you with both the selection of the area and the property inspection.

3. What to do if the house is occupied?

If this has happened to you, the first thing to do is to stay strong.

You should remember that in Spain, an attempt to get into your own home, occupied by okupas, and the use of physical force can turn against you and lead to a criminal case. That is why it is necessary to let go of emotions, and remember that now the main thing is your quick reaction and lawful actions.

Illegal tenants can only be evicted immediately if they are caught breaking into your house. If the okupas manage to settle down and change the locks, they can be evicted only via the court. That is why the speed of your actions and timely reporting to the police are so important.

In addition to cooperation with authorities, okupas eviction services have also become widespread in Spain: a team of tough guys that come to talk to the unwelcome guests. You should be aware that no one will give you a 100% guarantee for such services, and they may not always work. But as long as there is demand – there will be supply.

Within the legal framework, the landlord has two ways: he or she can act within the context of civil law and apply to the court, or within the criminal law, with the involvement of the police and the investigation.

4. How to avoid okupas and protect your property

Man in a cap "love your neighbour"
By selecting the right area and assessing whether the acquired property is attractive to take over, you can significantly reduce the risk. There are several ways to reduce it to zero:

  • Vigilant neighbours
The most trivial advice "to be friends with your neighbours" turns out to be somewhat useful in this case. If it is important to react quickly to an illegal entry, it is the neighbours who will give you information about what is going on.

Is it easy to be friends with Spaniards? Becoming familiar with their mentality and thoroughly learning Spanish will not be required from you – being polite is enough. Spaniards are very good at communication and small talks. Show them respect, and then, when you leave for an extended period, you can ask them to keep an eye on your home. There are numerous happy ending stories among our clients when neighbours called the police themselves.

  • Concierge Service
In your absence professionals can look after your property, and solve any related issues: from pool cleaning to interaction with public utilities and government agencies.
Consirerhe service
What is included, and how much does our concierge service in Alicante and Torrevieja costs?

1. Inspection of your property:

— Photo or video report of the property condition.
— Checking the integrity of locks, doors and windows.
— Fixing possible problems (breakdowns, leaks).
— Checking the presence of water, electricity (if necessary).
— Calling a master or an insurance company (in case of problems).

2. Airing of your property.
3. Responsible storage of keys.
4. Checking of the mailbox, taking out of the correspondence.
5. Notification of receipt of letters from government agencies.

It is possible both with the transfer of keys for access to the property and without the possibility of getting inside. In this case, a photo or video report on the state of the property will be provided from the outside, and a visual assessment of the integrity of the locks will also be made.

The cost of a one-time service is 50 EUR + IVA.

Monthly check:
For 6 months - 249 EUR + IVA.
For 12 months - 490 EUR + IVA.

  • Security, alarm and video surveillance
Illegal entry is a criminal offence, so the okupas prefer to bypass safe houses. After all, if the alarm goes off and the police arrive, it's no longer possible to pretend that "we've lived here a long time". Therefore, it is recommended to conclude a contract to protect the property or install an alarm system.

For the same purpose and your peace of mind, you can install a video surveillance system that will allow you to monitor the house from anywhere in the world from your gadgets. You may also equip the home with sensors that will enable you to track illegal entry. This will help you not only to call the police as soon as necessary, but also to prevent break-in at all. Besides, you will have footage as evidence. Yes, sometimes even simulations of cameras or stickers that the house is guarded stop the squatters, but it is better to conclude contracts and equip the home with real cameras.
Security cameras
  • Insurance against okupas and unscrupulous tenants
Insurance companies offer two types of insurance that will help the owner of the property. Legal protection insurance of the owner (Seguro de Defensa Jurídica para Propietarios) protects the property from being taken over by third parties. It will cover the costs of litigation and legal assistance.

To protect against dishonest tenants who stop paying and become okupas, it is possible to conclude an insurance policy against non-payment of rent (Seguro de Impago de Alquiler).

The cost of such insurance varies from 3 to 5 per cent of the rent depending on a term and terms of a contract. The contract can be concluded for six months or a more extended period, under the terms of the agreement the insurance will cover only the cost of rent and possible damage to the property, as well as the costs of legal proceedings. Another advantage of rental insurance is that the insurance company checks the tenant's status, solvency, overdue loans and other formalities before entering into the contract.

We help VirtoProperty clients both with choosing an insurance company and support in concluding an agreement if necessary. We offer translation service and assist at insurance companies and banks.

  • Look after your papers
If you are going away for an extended period or if you only live in the house for a couple of months per year, do not leave your title deeds, utility contracts or personal data in accessible places. You should have either scans or copies of title documents with you. This will help to respond quickly and provide all the necessary data to the police or court and speed up the process when considering an eviction okupas.

5. Conclusion

We all live within the limits of the current legislation, but hope for changes soon.

There are political forces in the Spanish Congress that are aware of the need for such changes. They plan to adopt amendments under which "okupas" can be evicted within 48 hours, prohibit them from staying for a long time in seized homes and apartments, as well as toughening responsibility for occupying someone else's property by amending the Penal Code. Now the "okupas" got away with fines, which they do not pay, as they "do not have a livelihood". Under the new amendments, they will face real terms of 1 to 3 years.
Street cafe in Spain
Another proposal is the possibility to sue for eviction of "okupas" not only by property owners, but also by neighbours based on illegal actions of the squatters (drug trafficking, inappropriate behaviour, etc.). But so far, these are only draft laws that are still far from reality, so when choosing a house or apartment in Spain, one should be guided by common sense and expert advice.

We hope that these tips will never be useful to you, and nothing will overshadow your stay in Spain!
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