Organized Squatting Gangs Extort Owners of Vacation Homes in Spain

Published: 29 August 2022

Guardia Civil Property CrimeSome 100,000 properties in Spain are believed to be occupied squatters, many of whom act in organized gangs. (Photo: Guardia Civil, License)

By David Klein

Police in Spain said they arrested an organized criminal group that had been renting vacation homes and then refusing to leave them unless the owners paid significant amounts of money.

Under Spain's current property laws, if squatters remain undisturbed for more than 48 hours, an eviction process may be required to remove them, especially if they have moved their belongings in to make it seem as if they had a longer term arrangement, according to Spanish Property Insight.

According to a police statement issued last week, a gang of at least six individuals was extorting the owners of vacation homes in the town of Villajoyosa but the scheme seems to have spread across the country.

“Once they occupied the house, they refused to leave or pay any amount for the use of the house. Then they threatened the owners in exchange for very high amounts -14,000 euros-, telling them that if they paid them, they would leave and their home would not suffer major damage,” Spain’s Guardia Civil said in a statement.

“The usurped houses were constantly occupied by the members of the group who in turn gave them to other relatives, guaranteeing that there would always be people in the houses and thus avoiding being evicted,” it explained.

Some 100,000 properties in Spain are believed to be occupied by squatters, many of whom act in organized gangs like that in Villajoyosa, according to Spanish Property Insight. The number of homes has been increasing rapidly every year, having more than doubled since 2016.

A variety of factors, from a large tourism and rental property industry with absentee home-owners to a lack of local housing, has made the crime a major issue in the Iberian state.

One significant cultural factor was the countercultural Okupa movement that flourished after the fall of Francoist Spain. The movement used squatter’s rights to claim derelict buildings in the city centers for migrant workers who had once been housed in slums at the city's fringes.

The same legal frameworks are now being exploited by criminal groups to extort homeowners such as in Villajoyosa.

“Throughout the investigation, the agents verified that it was not something isolated, but a plot. The group located short-term vacation-type rental homes and contacted the owners posing as a family interested in spending a weekend or several days,” Guardia Civil said.

“The leader of the gang was the one who made contact with the owners and received the keys. She made a verbal contract with them. Later, when it was time to leave the house, she claimed that she had rented for a long time. It was then that her husband's shift began, one of the main people in charge of materializing the threats and extortions,“ Guardia Civil said.