Lobbying against property mobbing

Article published on Sept. 26, 2006
Article published on Sept. 26, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Intimidation, blackmail, and conspiracy… Europe’s property owners are resorting to extreme methods to oust tenants and manipulate the market. In Spain, tenants denounce increasing ‘property mobbing’

Madrid. Manoli, Mayte and Lola have been living in the same apartment block for 30 years. But for the past four, they have lived in the fear they might be evicted or that their house would collapse. After an initial attempt to throw them out, their property agency now refuses to repair damages to the building in the hope they’d leave ‘voluntarily’.

Spanish property mobbers

This is just one of many examples of Spanish ‘property mobbing’. The term refers to pressures, sometimes illegal, that agencies and landlords use to drive occupants from their homes. Worst affected are often those with low tenancies: low earners, young mothers and the elderly. Unscrupulous planners try to drive them out to go forward with urban development plans or simply to capitalise on increased market value. The phenomenon is worsened by spiralling property prices in recent years: in Spain property prices have jumped by 150% in the past ten years. In Barcelona, 201 of such complaints were received from January 2005 to May 2006.

Tools of the trade: harassement

To date explicit cases of property mobbing have not been prosecuted outside Spain. In 2004, a judge prosecuted a landlord and his accomplices for burglaring and damaging three apartments in Bilbao. Hoping to purchase the whole building, the culprit had bought an apartment and rented it almost free to a family of gypsies. In exchange, they were to damage the assets of the other occupants until they fled. Ultimately the neighbours brought charges and testified against them and foiled their plan.

Property mobbing is closely linked to urban transformation or gentrification. Increasingly victims are turning to specific organisations to protect their rights. Architecture Sans Frontieres distributed a leaflet in early 2006 criticising the wave of illegitimate evictions in certain Spanish cities.

Nevertheless the scourge extends beyond the Spanish borders, reports The International Alliance of Inhabitants. The European Social Forum seminar on violation of housing rights in Europe (Athens, 4-7 May 2006) brought together representatives from the EU, the Russian Federation and Turkey. Richard Lee, secretary of the London Tenants Federation, exposed the darker side of London’s 2012 Olympic success. ‘The housing sector is being rapidly privatised and social housing demolished to make way for sports arenas, commercial premeses and luxury apartments,’ he stated. According to Denis Uvier from Solidarités Nouvelles, the construction of the EU also hits the inhabitants of Brussels hard. These suffer from increased property prices and evictions to make room for the institutions.

No specific legislation in Italy

In Italy, thanks to a Zero Evictions campaign against the privatisation of public housing, a protocol was signed in February 2005 which declared Rome an ‘eviction free city’. France, too, has introduced regulations on evictions and has approved the construction of 500,000 new units of social housing over 5 years.

While property mobbing is increasingly being taken seriously, experts still warn that there is no clear legal recourse. First step: the victim must denounce the ‘mobber’. But the Italian lawyer Gianluca Nargiso explains ‘there is no specific legislation in Italy. When the tenant does act against the illegal activities of the mobber, he is usually victorious. In 90% of Italian cases, mobbing landlords are condemned. According to the lawyer Giorgio Vanacore, victims must prove they suffered unjust damage with emotive or financial consequences. This shows causality between ‘mobbing’ behaviour and charges for damages.