A foot in the door: spate of evictions sparks rise in “pisos patada” in Madrid

Organized gangs offer homeless empty apartments in exchange for cash

When Esther Sanz found out that she was about to be evicted from her apartment she approached the social organization Platform for those Affected by Mortgages (PAH). She also went to see her parish priest in the San Cristóbal neighborhhod of Villaverde, a district in Madrid. That was when two people came up to Sanz and offered her an alternative: “Give us 600 euros and we’ll open an apartment for you today.” It wasn’t the first time the offer had been made. In Villaverde, empty properties don’t last a day.

The wave of evictions sweeping across the capital in the past few years has hit San Cristóbal particularly hard. In this working class neighborhood an underground real estate agency is flourishing. Among 6,000 properties in one area, residents say about 500 are what has become known as pisos patada — literally, flats with the doors kicked in. Their owners, the banks, do nothing with them after an eviction and in many cases don’t even pay community fees. The number of people waiting to take advantage of this is growing.

Esther Sanz complains bitterly about “organized mafias that know in advance when people are going to be evicted and try to grab families that are already sunk in misery.” She says that these organizations also keep an eye out for flats that are empty seasonally. This is the case of Juan, a Dominican who went to Almería for a few months and returned to find his locks had been changed. There was a family living in his flat. He made a police complaint two years ago and recovered his property just last month. “This is the problem,” says María del Prado, president of the San Cristóbal residents association since 1991. “They are quick to get rid of people who can’t meet their mortgage payments but then the process to remove squatters takes two years or more. And the social conflict remains in the neighborhood.”

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