Barcelona’s left-wing mayor Ada Colau has ordered the expropriation of an ‘empty’ flat owned by a bank, in a first for the city facing a shortage of homes.
Ms Colau, a former housing campaigner who started her second term as mayor last week, put to use a law passed by the Catalan parliament in 2016.
Under its terms local authorities can claim homes owned by companies that have many properties in their portfolios, if they are left vacant for two years or more.
The homes can remain under public control for four to ten years.
The law was suspended by Spain’s constitutional court after a challenge by the government of former Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, but last year the court ruled it in order.
“This empty flat will now form part of the municipal housing stock for 10 years,” said Lucía Martín, Barcelona’s councillor in charge of housing.
Ms Martín added that expropriation orders were being prepared for seven other properties belonging to banks.
The council says it discovered the apartment had been empty for two years through the residency register and a lack of utility payments.
The law can only be applied to properties in areas with a “strong residential demand”, as in the Besòs district, where the flat belonging to Spain’s BBVA bank is located.
Having observed a two-year vacant period, the council must then ask the owner to allow the property to be used as social housing and can only proceed to an expropriation in the case of a refusal or no reply.
BBVA claims that Barcelona council has made a mistake, and that it will challenge the expropriation in court.
“The home has not been empty during the past two years and, in fact, it is currently occupied by a disadvantaged family,” a spokeswoman for BBVA told The Telegraph.
Protecting less wealthy Barcelona residents from the impact of the city’s tourism and real estate boom has been a priority for Ms Colau.
Measures taken by her Barcelona en Comú party include a moratorium on new hotels and tourism rental apartments and a system of mediation to seek solutions when landlords wish to evict residents.
Ms Martín said on Friday that evictions in Barcelona fell by 23 per cent between 2015 and 2018.
Ms Colau was able to take power thanks to the support of former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a mayoral candidate who lent his party's council votes to her in order to prevent a separatist candidate securing the seat.