The Spanish government approved new “urgent” measures to help needy families facing home eviction. But the measures stop short of changing the Spanish law on mortgage repayment, which some judges find “abusive”.
The measures consist of a two-year moratorium of home evictions of families in especially difficult circumstances and the creation of homes with low rents for those evicted.
The measures are similar to a voluntary code of conduct on evictions set in place in March for the Spanish banks, which had very limited effects. The scope of potential beneficiaries has now been slightly amplified. In order to avoid being evicted from home, the household must make less than 19,200 euro a year and have a child below the age of three, or be a large family – i.e. a couple with three or more children or a single parent with at least two children – or with a family member who is either a victim of domestic violence, or disabled, or has a serious illness.
The rushed move comes after a month of increased attention on the mounting forced evictions in Spain and which culminated with the suicide of a 53-year-old woman who jumped from her balcony as she was being evicted from her family home last Friday. It was the third ‘eviction’ suicide or suicide attempt in Spain in just as many weeks.
One man facing eviction hanged himself at the end of October and the following day another man jumped from his balcony – he survived the fall.
The worsening economic crisis and the record high unemployment rate of 25 percent has only aggravated the foreclosures of family homes and businesses properties when people find themselves unable to pay back their mortgage.
There have been a total of almost 400,000 evictions since the crisis started in Spain and the pace has accelerated in the last few months with around 50,000 in the first six-month of 2012 alone. The numbers also include evictions of business properties and second residence.
There have been several motions against the law on mortgage repayment lately. In October, an internal working paper of seven judges in Spain denounced the legal system of evictions as being “abusive” and called for change.
Last week, Advocate General Juliane Kokott stated in a non-biding report that she believed that the Spanish law on mortgages is “incompatible” with EU law because it does not sufficiently protect consumers from banks.
The Spanish system does not sufficiently protect the consumer against possible abusive clauses in mortgage contracts, because it allows evictions to take place before the debtor can claim damages, Ms Kokott argued. The European Court of Justice is expected to hand down its verdict early next year on a query from a court in Barcelona handling a case on forced eviction.
In Spain, even after being evicted people are liable for repaying large amounts on their mortgage as the value of their property has plunged in the crisis.
The social tragedy has led to an increasingly growing social mobilisation against the forced evictions. Associations such as Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions) and the Plataforma de los Afectados por la Hipoteca (the Platform for Mortgage Victims) offer advice and human barriers at planned evictions.
Local police units have also disclaimed their unease of forced evictions, which sometimes come to clashes between police and protesters supporting families destined for evictions. A couple of city councils have even ordered their local police not to assist in forced evictions.
Yesterday’s measures was planned to be a bipartisan agreement between the governing Partido Popular and the Socialist Party in opposition. However, the negotiations failed because the Socialist Party wanted the urgent measures to include a guarantee that there would be a reform of the Spanish law on mortgage repayment – something they themselves refused to do when in power between 2004 and 2011 (and which they have now apologised for).
Spanish President Mariano Rajoy and his government then went ahead approving their own measures. Some argue the government fears that talking about changing the mortgage repayment law could create insecurities on the financial markets – something they want to avoid just before Europe is set to give the Spanish banks an around 60 billion euro cash injection.
As an end note it is worth mentioning that neither one of the two who committed suicide in the last few weeks would have been likely to be affected by the new moratorium on home evictions. None of them fitted the new conditions needed to benefit from the two-year moratorium on home eviction.
They were victims of the social tragedy that is becoming increasingly profound as the economic crisis prolongs.