Housing

Barcelona fights housing crisis with threat to seize empty flats

The Catalan capital is cracking down on a scourge of empty homes with tough measures to push real estate companies into taking on tenants

The Barcelona mayor is taking action on the city’s worsening housing crisis by telling landlords to rent out vacant homes within 30 days – or risk them being repossessed for half their market value.

With nearly 200 flats lying empty, Ada Colau said property owners must take on tenants in the next 30 days to avoid them being seized by the city.

The Catalan capital sent notices to 14 landlords warning them of the compulsory purchase plans, with any properties left empty pegged to be made available as affordable housing by the Town Hall while the companies could also face fines of up to €900,000 (nearly £820,000).

Last year a report found that Spain’s rent prices were rising 30 times faster than wages were while tenants in Barcelona were found to be paying the most per square metre in the country.

There are also proposals to fine homeowners who leave their properties empty for more than two years in a bid to tackle the city’s housing crisis.

Since 2016 local authorities across Catalonia have had the power to take properties left empty for two years and rent them out to low-income families for between four and ten years, before returning them to the owner – but the legislation has rarely been applied, and the new powers will mean officials don’t have to return the property to owners.

After the country’s property market stagnated following the 2008 financial crash, real estate companies have kept hold of their properties in the hope that the market would pick up again, with little effort having gone into renting them out.

“We are not here to expropriate. What we want is for apartments to be rented,” the city’s housing councillor Lucia Martín said.

“If the answer is no, we will open the file and they will go to expand the city’s public housing sector.”

The targeted homes must have had no tenants for two years as well as no recent utilities usage in order for the city to repossess them.

And Barcelona officials are looking for Catalan authorities to let them seize homes which have been empty for just six months rather than two years.

Empty homes are a recurring issue as countries across Europe look to tackle their housing crises amid the pandemic. Last month the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership said councils must make use of the estimated 40,000 empty homes as part of their recovery plans in the face of an affordable housing shortage.

The partnership, run by charity Shelter Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, brought nearly 1,500 empty homes back into use over the past year.

They say making vacant homes available would also help rejuvenate town centres and boost communities at a time of increased poverty.

The SEHP has recovered 5,756 properties in the decade since it was established, with nearly 45 per cent of those brought back into use in the last two years across 21 local authorities.

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