In Barcelona, Spain, the authorities are forcing landlords to fill empty houses with occupants or watch them taken by the government as public housing to lower-income tenants.
The city’s housing department has written to 14 companies that collectively own 194 empty apartments, warning that if they fail to find tenants next month, the city will take possession of their properties, and compensate them with half of their value.
The warning also said that the companies could be fined between €90,000 and €900,000 ($103,000 and $1,003,000) according to local media.
In the Catalonia region of the country, a 2016 law empowers the municipalities to take control of properties abandoned for more than two years. The law gave the cities the right to rent out the properties for a period of four to ten years before returning them to the control of the owners.
In 2019, Barcelona approved a legal tool that empowers the city to purchase the properties at half the market price. The aim is to curtail the crisis in the region’s housing sector.
Bloomberg reported that Spain’s dwindling property market is forcing the country to take drastic measures. The empty houses menace is attributed to the country’s 2007 to 2008 financial crisis that depleted every sector of the economy. As the market struggles to bounce back, homeowners are waiting for the market to revive.
Many housing units were repossessed by banks that think of them as assets to be managed rather than essential public resources. Reports said it has resulted in a high rate of empty houses and neglected properties in the city. Adding to the menace, the abandoned homes have become Narcopisos (Narco-flats), where drug dealers and users trade and consume narcotics.
According to Bloomberg, Barcelona has been devising on how to solve the problem for a while. The tools deployed by the city include levying heavy fines for vacant units, while some empty vacation rentals have also been used as emergency housing during the pandemic.
The new approach is quite wider than others previously used. All properties up for potential expropriation belong to owners with multiple with multiple units.
But a house could only be eligible for forced purchase if it has stayed as long as two years without record of utilities use. Occasionally used houses are exempt.
The city housing commissioner, Lucia Martin said the aim is not to pressure landlords into renting their own units.
“We are not here to expropriate. What we want is for apartments to be rented. If the answer is no, we will open the file and they will go to expand the city’s public housing sector,” she told the local newspaper 20 minutos.
The city is seeking stiffer penalties for abandoned houses. The enforcement is seeking to persuade the Catalonian authorities to expand the program by narrowing the time period of forced sale from two years to six months.
But many house owners are voluntarily handing over their houses to the city. Spain’s national bank SAREB, reportedly handed over rights to rent out 256 squatted apartments they own to the city this week. Just so, they could be rented and the drug dealers and users could be pushed away.
In many other countries in the world, the housing situation is opposite of what is obtained in Catalonia. Though there are still empty houses even though the demand is high.
In the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja, there are over 600 abandoned houses rotting away when there is a huge deficit in the country. Nigeria has 22 million housing deficit, and Abuja contributes 1.7 million to that gap.
The situation has been attributed to many factors ranging from corruption to the cost of rent. Acting Managing Director, Abuja Property Development Company (APDC), Lawal Aliyu Magaji told Guardian earlier in the year that lack of an effective tax system among other things has contributed to this.
“If we have a good property tax system where those houses are being taxed, people would not continue to keep houses unoccupied. When the owners are being taxed for houses they built which is not fetching them any profit, they would have a rethink,” he said.
He added that the unoccupied houses were built by those who have no interest in “getting any income from them,” which poses a morality question. In a city where there is a 1.7 million housing deficit, should over 600 houses be unoccupied?
The call to get occupants into Abuja empty houses have been ringing for long, and the Nigerian government’s plan to use a tax regime to effect it seems far-fetched. The Catalonia housing laws therefore, present a model that the federal government can borrow to solve the Abuja unoccupied houses problem.