If you own a property in Spain but are not a resident here, then the prospect of squatters may be a worry. The okupa movement has gained ground here and there are stories of people moving into unoccupied properties. So, how can you protect your property from squatters in Spain and what can you do if it happens to you?
Non-resident property owners from different countries are currently finding it harder to visit and enjoy their Spanish properties. A variety of quarantine restrictions have reduced the viability of checking up on your property in Spain. Add to this reduced flights and airlines and we can see many holiday homes left unchecked for months. In this article we share some guidelines on how to protect your property from squatters in Spain.
Who is an Okupa?
An Okupa is a person who looks for an empty building to break into and live in. There can be many different reasons for this. Most obvious is that they have no place of their own or have been evicted due to lack of funds. Some may have had their home repossessed and suffered from a desahucio (eviction).
Others are part of an Okupa movement who seek to occupy empty buildings as part of a protest against capitalist institutions. The movement can also be in support of and house people who have been evicted, helping them find properties and providing them with the advice to gain entry.
Finally, you might occasionally find Okupas who take over empty buildings in order to bribe the owner into paying them money to leave. This payment can be offered as a solution rather than the owner having to go through the courts and pay legal fees.
So what can you do to protect your property from squatters in Spain?
This is where keeping in contact with your neighbours can be a real bonus. Ideally you have resident neighbours who can keep an eye on your property for you. If you do, then make sure you add them to your Christmas list! If you don’t you might want to employ a key holder, if you don’t already have one.
It is also to the neighbour’s advantage to keep an eye out for you. Having squatters move in is not ideal for the reputation of the area and they are unlikely to have the same interest in keeping the property in a good state of maintenance. Unfortunately some squatters will prove to be less than favourable neighbours – those resident in the area will have them daily on their doorstep.
There are people who will check in on your property at regular intervals for a living. This can be useful not only for ensuring a ‘lived-in’ look but also for collecting post, doing a few odd jobs and preparing your property for when you are able to visit. Of course, they will want paying for this but if it gives you peace of mind then it is worth it.
It might sound obvious, but investing in a good alarm system can act as a deterrent. If the alarm also has a camera linked to it then this can be added to your case if you should need to prove that the squatters broke into your property. Squatters will be looking for an easy occupation and tend to bypass those homes that are evidently well-protected. A video surveillance system allows you to monitor your property from wherever you are and either alert neighbours or the police directly.
Squatters can be removed immediately if they are caught actually breaking into your house. So, the harder you make it for them to enter, the more likely that they will be caught in the act and the police notified. If the squatters are able to enter your property and change the locks you will have a more difficult task to remove them, including having to make a court application.
Be mindful of what you leave in the property when you are not there. It is wise to keep any key documents such as the Title Deed, utility contracts and other personal data with you, just in case. This not only makes good sense in relation to squatters but it could also get into the wrong hands if you are burgled. Of course, it’s also useful to have these documents with you wherever you live to use in any communications with the police or other authorities.
The legal measures you can take
If, in spite of your preventive measures, your property is broken into then there are two methods by which you can seek removal of your squatters. Firstly by a civil action and alternatively through criminal proceedings.
The good news is that in June 2018, Law 5/ 2018 on ‘forced eviction’ was introduced. This meant that the legal owner could apply to a court without having to give the names of the squatters to the police. This previous requirement to refer to personal data had been difficult to comply with – who is going to tell you after all?
The occupants of the property are given five days to produce documents to show that their stay in the property is legal. If they can’t do this then they can be evicted immediately. Previously it had been known to take years in some cases.
Your first move, if the police weren’t called when the squatters were breaking in, is to make a denuncia. The police will then visit the property, collect evidence from both you and the squatters. You can then request that the judge evicts the squatters straight away to prevent the crime continuing.
Both civil and criminal actions can take time depending on where your property is and the police and court workload. However, don’t be tempted to take the law into your own hands. Be warned, if you do use physical force yourself then it could lead to a criminal case against you. It is also advisable not to cut off the utilities or change the locks once the squatters have moved in. This can also result in criminal actions, even if it is your own property.
There are two types of insurance that you might want to consider if you feel you are at risk of having your property illegally occupied. The first ‘seguro de defensa jurídica para propietarios’ is legal protection insurance that will cover the cost of legal assistance and taking the squatters to court. The second is ‘seguro de impago alquiler’ which protects a landlord against tenants who opt for not paying the rent. This insurance can also be used to cover any damage caused and again to pay court fees where necessary.
It is important to be aware of the issue of squatters in Spanish property. However, hopefully, you can see that there are ways of avoiding them settling in your home and measures that you can take if they do.