Euskadi Will Be Allowed to Expropriate Homes That Remain Uninhabited for More Than Two Years

2 October 2018

The Constitutional Court endorsed fundamental aspects of the Basque housing law that the PP government appealed in 2016.

The Constitutional Court (TC) has endorsed the ability of the Basque Government (Euskadi) and regional municipalities to proceed with the forced expropriation of homes that remain uninhabited for a period of more than two years without just cause and are located in areas where there is a proven demand for public or social housing. The institutions will have the power to place the properties on the social housing rental market when a need is found in the areas they are located.

“This does not mean that the Government or the municipalities are going to move ahead with a wave of expropriations,” the Basque housing councillor, socialist Iñaki Arriola, stressed. The pronouncement by Spain’s highest court let a decree stand that would permit the forced rental of homes in areas that have remained unoccupied for an extended period and where there is an elevated demand for social housing. It is, said Arriola, a “balance between policies incentivising social housing and punitive measures in the case where properties, such as housing, are not adequately put to use.”

The latest census of empty and uninhabited homes in the Basque territory will be made public tomorrow by the councillor, who has so far declined to cite the figure. The previous report, with data for 2015, noted that there were 86,325 empty dwellings (8.3% of all Basque households). Of these, almost a third (32%) were used as seasonal housing, and the remaining 68% were classified as unoccupied. Of the 58,697 unoccupied homes, more than half (35,647) were not on the market to rent or sell.

Homes will not be considered unoccupied when they are second homes and when their inhabitants are temporarily absent due to relocations stemming for work, health, dependency and social emergency reasons that justify the absence, Arriola said. Before declaring a dwelling unoccupied, the relevant institution must open a file, summon the owners for a hearing and later determine whether the situation merits forcibly placing the property on the social housing market through a temporary expropriation.

The Government of the PP appealed the Basque Housing Law in 2016 before the Constitutional Court, requesting that the court rule that several of the law’s precepts exceeded the regional government’s powers and encroached on the powers of the Spanish state. The Basque law, which establishes the subjective right to dispose of a home, was approved in June 2015 on the initiative of the PSE with the support of EH Bildu and UPyD. The PNV and the PP voted against the measure.

The last census stated that there are 58,697 uninhabited homes in Euskadi, the Basque territory

The appeal by Rajoy’s government was based on the fact that the Basque legislation imposes a new form of regulatory oversight on the right to own property, stating that ownership brings with it the duty to inhabit the residence. The State Attorney challenged 13 articles and several sections, most of which refer to the definition of uninhabited housing and the regional government’s tools for dealing with those unoccupied households and which are considering to be in contravention of their social function as established by law.

Councillor Arriola stated that the TC’s ruling validates “without any restriction” the ability of Basque institutions to intervene with unoccupied dwellings that “do not fulfil a social function.” The regulations give the Basque Government and municipalities the ability to determine when a house is considered to be uninhabited and provides those institutions with the instruments “to encourage their occupation or penalise their lack of use.”

The Minister of Housing approved of the court’s ruling which, in his opinion, grants the Basque government the “full jurisdiction” to regulate the sector with legal certainty. The court, however, also ruled that the article granting financial institutions, their real estate subsidiaries and asset management entities the ability to subject property owners to forced expropriation for the temporary use of dwellings subject to eviction proceedings for foreclosure is unconstitutional.

Original Story: El País – Mikel Ormazabal

Photo: Luis Sevillano

Translation: Richard Turner