DL 17/2019 amended article 3 (d) of the Catalan Law on the Right to Housing, Law 4/2016, of December 23, considering an empty dwelling as «the dwelling that remains permanently unoccupied, without just cause, for a period of more than two years. For this purpose, justified causes include relocation for work reasons, change of address due to a situation of dependency, abandonment of the dwelling in a rural area in the process of losing population, and the fact that the ownership or possession of the dwelling is the subject of a pending legal dispute. Occupation without legitimate title does not prevent a dwelling from being considered empty, except in the case where the owner of the dwelling can prove that he has initiated the appropriate legal action for the effective recovery of possession before the deadline for considering the dwelling empty has expired«.
According to DL 17/2019, validated on February 5, 2020 by the Parliament of Catalonia, a dwelling is considered empty if it remains permanently unoccupied, without justified cause, for a period of more than 2 years, counting from the moment the owner has the disposition to do so and there is no cause that justifies its unoccupation.
Thus, the DL 17/2019 did not change the causes that justified the unoccupation of the dwelling, considering as such the transfer for work reasons, the change of domicile due to a situation of dependence, the abandonment of the dwelling in a rural area due to loss of population and the fact that the property or the possession of the dwelling is the object of a judicial litigation pending resolution.
However, just one month after the promulgation of DL 17/2019, DL 1/2020 has come to modify DL 17/2019 only as far as the definition of empty dwelling is concerned. DL 1/2020 has also been validated by the Parliament of Catalonia.
According to the aforementioned DL 1/2020, a dwelling is considered empty «when it remains permanently unoccupied, without justified cause, for a period of more than two years. For this purpose, justified causes are the transfer for work reasons, the change of domicile due to a situation of dependence, the abandonment of the dwelling in a rural area in process of loss of population and the fact that the ownership of the dwelling is the object of a judicial dispute pending resolution. Occupation without legitimate title does not prevent a dwelling from being considered empty«.
The consequences of this change in the definition of empty dwelling are very relevant, at least in the following aspects:
The first, from the (very unfortunate) wording of the precept, it is clear that only disputes concerning the determination of the ownership of the property are valid grounds for considering that the dwelling in question is not an «empty dwelling» for the purposes of article 5 of Catalan Law 14/2015 of 21 July on the tax on empty dwellings.
In other words, the filing of legal actions that aims the effective recovery of possession (such as those filed against unpaid tenants and those against “squatters”) is no longer a cause that justifies unemployment and therefore, while the home remain busy, still without title, and with ongoing legal action, will not suspend or interrupt the term.
The second, that the consequences of the dwelling being considered as empty, determines that it could lead to apply:
- – Coercive fine, which regulates the actions to avoid the permanent unoccupation of the dwelling, being able to impose a fine of €1000 per month while they remain unoccupied, with a maximum amount of 50% of the estimated price of the dwelling.
- – Penalty consisting of a fine of €90,001 to 900,000 since the DL 17/2019 has typified as very serious the breach of legal and effective occupation of a dwelling, corresponding then to the above mentioned fine range.
- – Compulsory expropriation, if a breach of the social function is declared.