Gangs, squat­ters hold­ing va­cant apart­ments for ran­som in Spain

New Straits Times - - Business -

BARCELONA: A wall of bricks and ce­ment cov­ers the win­dow of a brand new apart­ment on the ground floor of a quaint build­ing in Barceloneta, a trendy sea­side neigh­bour­hood, here.

The goal? To pre­vent the va­cant flat from be­ing taken over by or­gan­ised gangs who break into empty houses, hand them over to oth­ers for a fee who then pro­ceed to hold the own­ers to ran­som — a phe­nom­e­non that has home­own­ers and au­thor­i­ties con­cerned.

They “look for empty flats on­line or in pub­lic reg­istries to break in”, says En­rique Ven­drell, pres­i­dent of Barcelona’s Col­lege of Prop­erty Man­agers, which groups pro­fes­sion­als in the sec­tor.

They then change the locks, hook up the prop­erty il­le­gally to elec­tric­ity, gas and water be­fore sell­ing the keys to squat­ters keen to make some cash who will de­mand money from the own­ers to leave, he adds.

It is dif­fi­cult to get ex­act fig­ures on the ex­tent of a rel­a­tively-new phe­nom­e­non, but the trend is se­ri­ous enough to worry real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als, home­own­ers and au­thor­i­ties.

Po­lice in the Cat­alo­nia re­gion where Barcelona is lo­cated said they were in­ves­ti­gat­ing se­ri­ous cases of “crim­i­nal oc­cu­pa­tions” of flats, but re­fused to give fur­ther de­tails, such as where the gangs come from.

Mean­while, vic­tims de­clined to tell their story for fear of re­tal­i­a­tion from the squat­ters, who of­ten threaten home­own­ers if con­fronted.

“Ring the door­bell again and you will re­gret it,” squat­ters told an el­derly woman when she con­fronted a group of peo­ple who were il­le­gally oc­cu­py­ing her apart­ment, said her lawyer Jose Maria Aguila.

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