Barcelona Fines Banks €60,000 for Empty Homes

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Barcelona city council has acted on its promise to fine banks with empty houses on their books, charging several banks €60,000 in total over 12 homes that have been empty for more than two years.

“Public authorities have an obligation to use all possible resources to confront the housing emergency,” Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, said as she announced fines on BBVA, Banco Sabadell and Sareb. City officials are investigating another 62 properties to decide whether more fines are appropriate.

Colau, a former housing activist who leads the leftist coalition Barcelona en Comú, said the fines were aimed at forcing banks to make use of empty properties. Those fined have a month to find tenants or face an additional charge of €10,000 (£7,300). If no action is taken after two months they could face another fine of up to €15,000.

The law allowing Barcelona to crack down on banks with empty homes was passed by the previous city council in 2014, but was never applied. In 2013, the Catalan city of Terrassa set a precedent in Spain when it handed down fines of €5,000 apiece on three banks over empty properties. The city’s right to do so was backed by a court in July, which threw out a legal appeal launched by the Spanish banking conglomerate Bankia.

Colau has long signalled that the right to housing is one of her mayoral priorities. In June, on her first day in office, Colau travelled to the district of Nou Barris to intervene in a planned eviction, and dispatched a city councillor to check in on other families at risk of being evicted that day. “We’re working to find a more stable solution,” she said at the time.

Colau said the city had also increased subsidies for those who fall behind on their rent payments and taken measures to move forward with a promise to add 8,000 properties to the city’s stock of public housing.

In recent years, more than 100 municipalities across Spain have approved motions to levy fines on banks with empty homes on their books, after the idea was promoted by the Mortgage Victims’ Platform (MVP), the anti-evictions group Colau co-founded. The fines were touted as a solution to bridge two distinct realities in Spain: the 3.4m homes that lie vacant – amounting to a third of all empty homes across Europe – and the 95 homes a day seized by Spanish authorities last year after residents defaulted on their mortgage payments.

The MVP welcomed the news of Barcelona’s first fines but urged the city to do more. “We don’t want to just rely on the symbolism of 12 homes in three districts of Barcelona,” it said. “We demand the creation of a census across the city and fines for all the empty homes held by banks.”

In Madrid, leftist mayor Manuela Carmena has also made access to housing a priority. In July she announced that the city had overturned eviction orders for 70 families living in social housing and taken action to safeguard more than 2,000 families at risk of eviction.