Gangs, squatters holding vacant apartments for ransom in Spain
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.