OKUPAS: Homeless or Pro’s?? A True Story

There’s a professional mafia in Barcelona that breaks into vacant apartments and changes the lock on the door. With their tools and experience, they gain entrance in a matter of minutes. These ‘Okupas’ don’t need a place to live; they want money. Here’s a true case showing how it works:

Ann owns an apartment in the Gothic Quarter. In December 2019, she went on vacation and couldn’t re-enter Spain due to COVID-19. In April 2020, someone broke into her apartment and changed the lock on the door. They didn’t move in; they listed the flat ‘for rent’ on a website they created that showed several other stolen apartments. The website shows the name of a legitimate agency.

Jose, a prospective renter, sees Ann’s flat on the website, calls the criminals and they meet at Ann’s apartment. The criminal agent says he represents the legitimate agency and shows Jose a lease written on the agency’s letterhead. This is also stolen and the legitimate agency has no knowledge of this.

Jose decides to rent the flat and signs the lease. The criminal signs with the legitimate agency’s stamp and it all looks perfectly legal. Jose then pays the criminal 3,000€ for a deposit and first-month rent. Then the criminal disappears never to be heard from again. Two weeks later, Jose files a complaint with the local police (Mossos). They investigate but there’s slim chance of making an arrest.

Ann meanwhile, returns to Barcelona in July and finds the lock changed. She talks to an attorney about evicting the squatters, but they’re not squatters; they entered legally and are protected by law. She’s forced to hire a company that specializes in expelling squatters. They try to negotiate a ‘settlement’ whereby Ann pays Jose to leave. A pain in the neck? Huge. Expensive? Yes.

In most countries, squatters get tossed in the street; in Barcelona they’re protected by law. In fact, Ann was told not to call the police as once reported, the squatters get full legal protection even if they broke into the property. It’s better to hire a private company.

Solutions. (1) The obvious: Install an alarm system. But beware, these are professionals. They try to cut off a building’s electrical service so they can enter an apartment inside without an alarm activating. (2) Install an ‘anti-okupa’ door for your apartment. They cost about 2,000€. You should also install one in the building.

The ‘Okupa’ laws in Barcelona are creating a prosperous business for organized criminals. They ride scooters in the Gothic Quarter and other negihborhoods looking for vacant flats. It’s getting worse and worse. Does Mayor Ada Colau realize this?

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