Squatters, occupiers or whatever you want to call them, are a real scourge in Spain. These people deprive you of your home by breaking in and illegally occupying it, so they commit various crimes to begin with. In many cases, the property is smashed up before they move on to the next victim.
The problem with squatters is that in some cases they have now become criminal organisations that can rely on specialist legal support. Every ruling made in the thousands of proceedings each year is carefully analysed and shared within the squatter community.
Whereas criminal squatters did not dare to occupy holiday homes until a few years ago, things have changed. Previously, these houses were not targeted because a house with connections to water and electricity is considered to be the residence of the owner. Occupying such a home could lead to a charge of trespassing. Nevertheless, in recent years squatters have been taking advantage of the absolute lack of justice in Spain, and these properties are increasingly being squatted as well.
The first reaction of owners faced with this unpleasant situation is to turn off the light and water.
Unfortunately, it is important to keep in mind that shutting off the utilities of your house to force the squatters to leave can be considered a criminal act. This criminal act is regulated by article 172.1 of the Spanish Penal Code, which states the following:
“Whoever, without lawful authorisation, prevents another person from doing by force what the law does not prohibit, or forces him to do what he does not want to do, whether rightly or wrongly, shall be punished by imprisonment from six months to three years or a fine from 12 to 24 months, depending on the severity of the coercion or the means used.”
Housing, the right to a dignified roof over one’s head, is considered a fundamental right and specially recognized in the Spanish Constitution. When the disconnection of utilities is aimed at preventing the squatters from living in the property, it can be considered a criminal act because it prevents the exercise of that fundamental right. There are cases where heavy penalties are imposed on owners if they try to force squatters to leave the property.
This goes so far that if the owner does nothing to prevent disconnection of the water and electricity supply, for example by not paying the water bill, this can also be considered coercion. This is contrary to the sense of justice of almost all professionals who have to deal with this phenomenon, such as lawyers, judges, police and victims. Surely it is too crazy that someone who commits crimes such as housebreaking, burglary and vandalism is rewarded with their recognition of fundamental rights. In our opinion, perpetrators waive those fundamental rights the moment they illegally occupy someone else’s home.
There may well be cases in which the occupant of the property needs to be protected. It is well known that these criminal squatters sometimes pose as legitimate owners and rent out the property to unsuspecting and innocent people. Of course, these tenants do not deserve to be without water and electricity either, but in our experience, these are exceptional cases. Most pseudo tenants or occupiers know exactly that the occupation of the property is the result of illegal actions.
If there is no effective justice in Spain and as long as certain judges stick to formal interpretations in situations where the law is materially violated, it is necessary to make the holiday home look permanently occupied. If, however, someone dares to squat in it, a report must be made within 24 hours of the house being broken into, broken into and vandalized. Whether you want to take the risk of disconnecting the water and electricity is something that everyone must consider for themselves.
Maria Dolores Garcia Santos