Barcelona fines three banks more than £1 million for keeping empty apartments amid housing shortage

Barcelona’s left-wing council has fined three Spanish banks more than one million euros in total for allowing apartments to remain empty for more than two years.In an aggressive new phase of a plan to ease the city's housing problems and clamp down on what it calls speculation, the council fined the banks €315,000 (£269,000) for each the apartments which were allowed to remain empty for more than two years.

 Announcing the unprecedented penalties – one each for Spain’s two biggest banks, Santander and BBVA, and two for Sareb, the country's "bad bank" which took over failed institutions’ toxic assets during the financial crisis - Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau tweeted on Monday night that “having empty flats will turn out to be bad business for banks and large property owners”.

Ms Colau was an anti-eviction activist before becoming mayor as the leader of a Podemos-backed political formation in June 2015.The fines totalling €1.26 million come after the same banks had smaller fines imposed on them a year ago, but failed to remedy the situation.  Barcelona’s housing chief, Josep Maria Montaner, said the aim was not to "collect money" from the banks in the form of fines, but rather to make sure homes had a social use.

The council has estimated that the number of empty homes may be as high as 80,000 and is in the process of drawing up a definitive map of vacant properties in a city where home prices have rocketed in recent years, in particular due to foreign interest in buying into Barcelona and its tourism boom.

Across the city house prices have risen by 24 per cent in the last three years to reach €3,716 a square metre, according to Idealista, Spain’s leading property website.

Rents are now at a citywide average of €16 per square metre, meaning a small 50 square metre flat costs €800 per month.The council plans to boost its portfolio of low-rent apartments. Owners of vacant apartments can sign up to the scheme in return for a 50 per cent rebate on property tax and subsidies for necessary renovations.  “If they sign up to the plan, owners will be able to have limited earnings and help with the city’s housing problem,” Mr Montaner said.

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