Little Amer has known four different floors in his 11 months of life, but he plays on the floor oblivious to the painful story of his parents. For the marriage of Moroccan origin formed by Fátima Maknassi, 31, and Rachid El Yagoubi, 51, the last year has been a journey: Fátima’s waters broke the same day they were to be evicted in Madrid. The judicial commission gave them three more weeks. Then they went through two reception floors until they reached their current home. Too much to take in. She says that she still cries remembering it. “I had hope in the judge. Fatima was pregnant and on the day of the eviction I don’t know what happened”, he completes. He listens to his compatriot Noura Zouita, 43, who understands many things. The shame that prevents her children from bringing friends home. The rejection of real estate. Or the frustration of waiting for a social rental that never arrives. But he still does not know the tear of the eviction. The judge paralyzed his based on the special measures for the pandemic.
More than 41,000 families were expelled last year from their homes in Spain, according to the latest data from the General Council of the Judiciary. Seven out of 10 (close to 29,000, in absolute numbers) were households that lived for rent. The cases skyrocketed compared to 2020, which was expected because the stoppage of activity in the first year of the pandemic was also reflected in the courts. But they are a fifth less than in 2019, for which there is only one logical explanation: the anti-eviction rules of the so-called “social shield”.
However, this has not been as protective as some would like. “The measures that have been carried out in the pandemic leave judges a lot of room for interpretation, which is why they are not always effective,” says a spokeswoman for the tenants’ unions, one of the groups most critical of the regulations. Natalia Palomar, a lawyer from the Provivienda association, agrees that there is “indefiniteness” in the legal texts and “an ambiguity that, if not well defined, allows wide possibilities of application.” In short, the lawyers themselves do not know what to take advantage of to try to stop an eviction. “Right now there are several possibilities and we put everything in a bunch”, Palomar graphically describes, “in the letter we ask for the suspension with a main cause, and the application of the rest subsidiarily”.
At the beginning of March 2020, just two weeks before the first state of alarm was declared, the Government reformed the Civil Procedure Law to change the eviction procedures that follow this route (the majority, as opposed to criminal). The automatic suspension of the process was introduced, between one and three months depending on the type of owner, if a report from social services indicated that the affected family was vulnerable. At the end of that same month, with the first wave of the pandemic hitting Spain, another decree introduced more changes: the suspension period was extended (and has been successively extended until next September 30) for homes vulnerable to covid, which required certain requirements. At the end of 2020, this was deemed insufficient and was extended to situations of vulnerability prior to the pandemic, although it was not clear how it was accredited. And finally, already in January 2021, a similar assumption was added for criminal cases, although only in households with dependents, minors or victims of gender violence.
None of all the possibilities worked for Fatima and Rachid. The release order indicated that he, a night guard, earned about 1,400 euros and his situation had not worsened due to the coronavirus. His lawyer highlights that the order did not consider that Rachid had been unemployed for a few months during the pandemic, Fatima’s advanced stage of pregnancy, or various reports from services and social workers. Fatima feels misunderstood: “You have to experience this situation to understand what we are suffering.” They now live in a two-bedroom flat with Amer and his three other children, all born in Spain. It costs 600 euros a month (200 euros more than the flat from which they were expelled) which must come from the 900 euros that Rachid, once again unemployed, earns. So for the fifth time in a year, they’re house hunting.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
Noura, the sole head of a household with four children (two of whom are now adults), also knows that she has to look for another home. In the current one, she laughs so as not to cry, she has lost her fear of rats. “There are days when we leave the Red Cross and the little boy tells me why don’t we go to a hotel,” she says. She earns about 530 euros a month and she stopped paying the owner company a long time ago. Her hope is to access a social flat of the Madrid Municipal Housing and Land Company (what Rachid defines as “a lottery”) before finding herself on the street. She currently has until September 30, when the current moratorium approved by the Government expires, because the judge agreed to suspend her eviction after the presentation of a report from social services.
Natalia Palomar, a lawyer for Provivienda, sees it necessary to make “a more careful review of the regulations [antidesahucios]” so that, for example, vulnerability reports have the same weight in all cases. Aner Uriarte, dean of judges in Bilbao, admits that among his colleagues there are discussions about what documentation is required or when it can be presented. But he denies the biggest: “The disparity of criteria is not something bad in itself, it is consubstantial to judicial independence,” he says. And Roberto García Cenicero, judge of first instance in Barcelona, considers that “more than different criteria, sometimes what happens is that there are different situations”.
In Justice, both magistrates agree, we must always go to the specific case. “There may be people who say that not all vulnerable assumptions are being covered because it is true,” admits García Cenicero, “but there may also be complaints from small owners who have to put up with the moratorium, a measure that harms them because it is taking a long time. ”. Because the underlying problem, everyone agrees on that, is not being fixed neither with the three-month suspension of the eviction that the law contemplated before the pandemic nor with the extension that the Government has been extending since March 2020. “If there are no housing alternatives, the situation is difficult to solve”, summarizes García Cenicero.
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