Criminal gangs invade the second homes of Britons in Spain and take advantage of a lax housing rule that prevents squatters from being evicted to sell their belongings and demand ransom.
A movement of squatters, known as Los Okupas, has long advocated for those struggling to find and afford suitable housing to move into vacant properties on a semi-permanent basis.
But opportunistic gangs have developed a business model in which they break into unoccupied vacation homes, change the locks and effectively “sell” the property to squatters.
With the new occupants able to remain in place for months or years at a time, the gangs collect money from the squatters while selling off the real owner’s belongings.
A Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, who recently traveled to Ibiza with his wife and two young children to find squatters inhabiting their holiday home, described the issue as a “legal loophole” that leaves landlords almost helpless to regain access to their properties.
People hold a banner that says ‘no to squatters’ as they demonstrate against squatters living in the Bonanova district of Barcelona this month
Squatters party from a barricaded property in Barcelona
Opportunistic gangs take advantage of Spain’s lax housing laws by entering unoccupied holiday homes, changing locks and effectively selling the property to squatters
Article 47 of the Spanish Constitution states that “all Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing” – a sentiment that has caused a legal loophole, making it extremely difficult for landlords to remove squatters who have entered their properties.
Under Spanish law, squatters who have occupied accommodation for more than 48 hours and who are deemed to have no other adequate accommodation to live in cannot be evicted without a court order.
This process takes an average of 18 months and can be particularly expensive, with complainants having to pay for legal representation and bailiffs.
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In the meantime, the only way to evict squatters is to pay squatter removal companies, many of which charge thousands of pounds to forcibly evict them.
A recent survey of iNews discovered that the gangs operating the scam have compiled a 102-page manual, described as an “anarchist manifesto”, which offers Okupa advice on how to successfully invade someone’s home and legal advice on how to way to extend their stay as long as possible.
British lawyer and head of the CPS extradition unit, Marc Robinson, is one of many Britons embroiled in legal battles over the squatters.
He is trying to get the family’s holiday home back after flying to Ibiza over the Easter holiday to find the locks had been changed, according to a Spanish outlet The objective revealed.
The Robinsons flew to the Spanish island with their daughters on April 4 and discovered that the lights were on and someone was at their property in the municipality of San Antonio.
The couple called police who spoke to a man inside who allegedly admitted he was squatting there with his wife and two children because he ‘had nowhere to live’.
British lawyer and head of the CPS extradition unit, Marc Robinson, is just one of many Britons embroiled in legal battles over squatters
Mr Robinson’s property in Ibiza has been taken over by squatters and he is now launching a legal battle to remove them
Mr Robinson’s wife, Sophie, told The Objective: ‘It looks like they are selling our possessions. We are certain that an expensive bicycle we had in the house is no longer there.
“When we finally get access, we’ll have to see if we end up charging them with theft or criminal damage.”
A month after their shocking discovery, Ms Robinson said their legal case to have the squatters evicted had not even been admitted for processing.
“The police report has not yet reached the court and the preliminary procedures to evict them from our house have still not been opened,” she added.
“The Civil Guard told us that they couldn’t do anything because when they arrived there was only a man, a woman and two children that they couldn’t deport without a court order because they say they are a family and they don’t have anywhere else to live.
“But we know there are more people in the house and it should be easy for the police to prove that.
“We do not understand how it is possible that there is a legal vacuum regarding squatters in Spain.”
Meanwhile, Londoner Michael Reagan told the Daily Express he found his Barcelona home overrun with squatters in 2021.
He hired a squatters removal agency to evict them and was forced to pay £1,750.
“You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Mr. Reagan said. “The law is very ineffective.”
Others took matters into their own hands, resorting to violence.
Last summer, a group of men filmed storming their home in the Spanish region of Murciathreatening to hit the squatters with iron bars if they did not leave.