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The present economic outlook for Spain is far better than few years ago. Nevertheless, unemployment is still high with figures around 18%. Specifically, in Andalusia the unemployment rate is around 28% with a rate of 57.8% for people under 25 years old. While some of these are working in the black economy, there are still a lot of people who are depending on unemployment benefits or on their families

In Spain, there are nearly 4 million empty properties. 70% of them are second residences, while the remaining are properties for sale, semi-finished properties that were not completed (missing first occupation license or the promoter went out of business), in many cases nowadays banks own the properties.

In these conditions, squatting has became a growing concern for property owners in the last few years. People in need, will break into a property when the owners are not there and change the locks. The second step will be to register their residency at the town hall “empadronamiento” which will give better defence later on.

Luckily this phenomenon is typical in large cities (Barcelona is particularly hit) and so far is fairly rare in the Costa del Sol and the Costa Tropical.

Most squatters work in teams, and the occupation of a house or a building is planned and coordinated. This involves weeks of spotting to check if a property is really empty and the utilities are connected.

If you are a victim of squatting. Act swiftly and seek immediate legal advice. Filing immediately a “denuncia”, in some cases might not solved the problem if the property was unhabitated. Time is of the essence and you should try to get the squatters out as fast as possible.

Sadly, the average time to fully evict a group of squatters is 18 months.

However, even if you are not the owner but a  neighbour, or as a community of owners it is possible to exercise the action of cessation and expulsion of  the squatters for unhealthy,  harmful or dangerous activities prohibited by the community of owners statutes, as set out in Article 7.2 of the Law on Horizontal Property (LPH).

This action is exercised through a civil action by the community of owners represented by the president, in case the squatters are carrying out such activities.

The Criminal Code

Art. 202 of the Spanish criminal law punishes with a sentence of imprisonment of six months to two years people that break  into a property that is inhabited. If the break in is with violence or intimidation, the punishment shall be imprisonment from one to four years .The intruders can be arrested and the problem gets solved swiftly.

It is a completely different matter, when squatters  break in when the property is uninhabited. In this case Art. 245.2 of Spanish criminal law states that the punishment will be a fine from 3-6 months (the amount to be paid will be quantified by the Judge depending on the economical circumstances of the squatters.

What to do if someone is squatting your property

Once the squatters are “empadronados” (registered as resident) in a property it will be more difficult to get them out. You cannot just change the locks, as paradoxically the squatters can denounce you for “illegal trespassing”.

There are several options

Criminal procedure

This will work only if the squatters broke in with violence and while the property was inhabited.

Civil procedure

It will take longer than many of the criminal proceedings and legal expenses will be higher than the civil procedure, but still effective.

There are various types of civil proceedings such as summary custody of possession, or exercise action for recovery of ownership, or those who defend the rights registered in the property register.

Possibly the best form of defence in a civil proceedings is the eviction action, called in Spanish “desahucio por precario”.

Borderline approach

Another option consists in using the squatters own tactics against them. You will have to wait until they leave the property. Once this has happened you break in to, change the locks and occupy the property. If the squatters call the police, you can show the property deeds and tell that you have decided to change the locks. Squatters will try to break in again, but while someone is in, it won’t be possible for them as they will try to avoid a criminal offence.

If the squatters are an organised team, they will never leave the property empty. So, it will work only if you are facing an isolated or non-professional squatter.