Spain to tackle eviction law after suicides provoke public anger
SPAIN'S main political parties will tackle eviction law reform on Monday after a homeowner's suicide provoked public fury and accusations that politicians and banks are complicit in de facto "murder".
Banks have repossessed close to 400,000 homes in Spain since a property bubble burst in 2008 and the nation subsequently sank into recession, throwing millions out of work and unable to keep up mortgage payments to the banks.
However, the suicide of 53-year-old Amaia Egana has inflamed a public already angered by what they see as a lack of compassion among Spanish banks, many of which have benefited from taxpayer-funded bailouts organised by the political elite.
Egana, a former Socialist councillor in northern Spain, jumped to her death from her fourth-floor flat on Friday as bailiffs were trying to evict her under foreclosure laws.
Public pressure prompted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to call for officials from his conservative People's Party and the opposition Socialists to speed up talks on reforming the eviction laws when they meet on Monday.
Fans at a Primera Liga soccer match on Saturday protested about the fate of Egana, who killed herself in the Basque town of Barakaldo, and countless others who are losing their homes.
"They're not suicides. They're murders. The banks and politicians are accomplices. Stop the evictions!" read a banner held up by supporters of Rayo Vallecano, which plays in a working class district of Madrid.
Heads of the economy departments of both main parties were expected to look at the possibility of granting moratoriums on mortgage payments for families in dire straits and to change the legal proceedings that lead up to an eviction.
Egana's death, and another eviction-related suicide in October, have intensified a popular backlash with many accusing the banks - some of which will receive part of an up to 100 billion euro European bailout - of callous disregard for the effects of unemployment, which has hit 25 percent.
However, a number of banks themselves are in dire straits because of the failure of many borrowers, ranging from small homeowners to major property developers, to repay their debts.
On Monday the Spanish Banking Association said its members agreed with the government last week to suspend eviction cases for two years for those most in need. Protesters say that will not go far enough given thousands will face difficulties in coming months.
On Monday protesters gathered outside the ruling People's Party headquarters in the centre of Madrid before walking to the parliament.
"We are due to be evicted on the 20th of this month, and we have nowhere to go but the street," said Angel Moran, a 59-year-old painter.
He said he had been out of work for four years, had a young daughter to support and the two other people living in his home to share the costs were now also without work.
As property prices have tumbled about 30 percent, hundreds of thousands of people who took on huge mortgages during the boom years now owe more than their home is worth.
Under Spanish law, even when borrowers turn over their homes to the bank, they still owe the entire amount of the mortgage.
A citizens' movement called "Stop Evictions" has organised protests at apartment buildings to block court workers from evicting families.
The pressure by Stop Evictions and other groups led the government to ask banks earlier this year to forgive mortgage debt for properties worth less than 200,000 euros and where all family members are unemployed.
A group of senior judges has pushed for a cross-party agreement on eviction reform, and a police union said it will support officers who refuse to take part in an eviction.
On Saturday, northern Spanish mortgage lender Kutxabank said it was suspending repossessions after the suicide of Egana.
Last week, European Union Advocate General Juliane Kokott issued a non-binding report concluding that Spanish legislation on evictions contradicts European norms for protecting consumer rights. Europe's highest court will rule on the issue.