Barcelona renters stuck in limbo: “We don’t have €4,000 to move house”

Skyrocketing prices, agency fees, deposits and three-year-contracts are leaving would-be tenants in Barcelona with no options

Clara Blanchar
Mery and Gotzon with their two children in their home.
Mery and Gotzon with their two children in their home.Albert Garcia

Four 30-year-olds are living in Barcelona in the trendy San Antoni neighborhood. But their rental contract has just ended. It’s impossible to negotiate with the owners. They have tried everything, but to no avail. And with the skyrocketing cost of rent (10% in the past year, the fourth consecutive rise) they can’t find anything they can afford. “And if we do find something, we don’t have €4,000 to move house.” Why €4,000?

You think you are middle class and you are not

Local resident Gotzon

“Consider that an apartment costs €1,000 to rent, because the average in the city is €900, then add one month of rent plus two for the deposit, the real estate agent’s commission, which is 10% plus tax, Spanish transfer tax… and that’s if they don’t ask you for an aval,” explain Bea and Dani, from Urgell street, the latter a reference to a kind of hefty deposit held in escrow by a bank. They live two blocks up from Gotzon and Mery, who also complain about how much money is needed just to change flats. With most contracts lasting three years, a would-be renter can lose up to €1,000 to real estate agents. Gotzon and Mery will be trying to avoid third parties. They have been living like they always have, but in the last few years the rising cost of rent has made it harder for them to scrape by.

The story of these two couples is different but starts from the same point: the end of the rental contract. The building where Bea and Dani live, which houses 20 homes, has been bought by a property investor. Their contract ended in mid-December and the owner told them that they could stay until March – but without a contract. They are looking, “but there is nothing for less than €900 or €1,000 – they also ask you for work contracts with a certain number of years, it’s a joke,” says Bea.

The regulation of the property market has been made so that there is no regulation

Jaime Palomera, Union of Renters

Gotzon and Mery have two small children and their contract comes up in April. Their story is painful to hear. “We were totally at peace and a letter changed everything.” With their income it is impossible to find something to rent in the same neighborhood. But their oldest child goes to school in the area and is really happy there. It’s a good reason to stay in the city. The couple asked the municipal housing office to intervene but not even mediation from the office has been able to extend their contract. This week, they were shown an apartment… but it is in Horta-Guinardó. And they are not the only ones interested. “I would never have imagined that we would be in this situation. With social services, it’s difficult to accept. It is a point of pride,” says Mery. “Barcelona has become hostile. Where is its human side? The only option is to be increasingly more poor or work more and more hours… entering a cycle of precariousness so that your life doesn’t change,” she continues. “You think you are middle class and you are not,” adds Gotzon.

Jaime Palomera from the Union of Renters says that these two cases are clear examples of what is called “invisible evictions.” People who have had to leave their home just because their contract ran out. Palomera warns that renters have little protection: “Laws violate many of their rights and put whoever is renting in a position susceptible to abuse.” Palomera says the fees charged by real estate agents – 10% of a year’s rent – is an “unwritten norm that exists only in Barcelona.” “It is not illegal, the law allows the abuse,” he adds. These fees should be divided “50% between the owner and the renter,” but renters are trapped in a “captive market,” says Palomera, because they have no other option than to accept the conditions. "The regulation of the property market has been made so that there is no regulation,” he says.

I would never have imagined that we would be in this situation Local resident Mery

The head of the API real estate agency association in Barcelona, Joan Ollè insists that the 10% commission has always been charged and not just in Barcelona. He recognizes that these fees are not fixed and there are people in the industry who charge “more or less” but “historically” the commission fee is 10% and a one-month deposit. “I refuse to think that abuses are widespread,” he says. Ollé believes it is logical for the renter and owner to split the costs evenly because the agency “provides a service to both of them.” When asked if the industry feels responsible for the rental crisis, he replies “absolutely not,” and insists it is a product of “market law.” “We are calling for there to be more flats but while there aren’t any it, it comes down to the law of supply and demand.” On whether he believes whether the spike in rent will reach a limit, Ollé responds: “The limit is the purchasing power of the people.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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