Flats that remain empty for more than two years in the Basque Country must pay a tax fee of 10 euros per year per square meter. The Basque Government has adopted this measure to mobilize vacant dwellings without just cause and to meet the existing social demand. The new decree approved this Tuesday, covered by the Basque Housing Law (2015), also contemplates forced rent and even the expropriation of uninhabited flats in areas where the need for housing is higher.
In Euskadi there are 15,134 flats that could be included in the new Registry of Uninhabited Homes prepared by the autonomous Executive and be affected by this measure, as explained this Tuesday by the branch counselor, Iñaki Arriola. A 2018 report estimated at just over 20,000 homes that were empty then, which accounted for 2% of the autonomous community’s residential stock. The municipalities will be in charge of certifying the vacancy of the dwellings by checking the register and inspections of the “abnormally low” consumption of electricity, water and gas, although the regional government may carry out these checks in a subsidiary manner. The consistories will also assume the collection of the tax that penalizes residential vacancy.
The procedure will include a hearing procedure in which the declaration of uninhabited housing can be stopped by proving the cases in which it is allowed to remain empty, incorporating the housing into public social rental programs such as Bizigune or putting the residence up for sale or rent at market prices. The new regulations establish as uninhabited housing that which is continuously unoccupied for two years from the day after it can be used for residential use.
The owners of flats that are declared empty must pay an annual tax of 10 euros per useful square meter, which will be increased by 10% for each year that remains unoccupied, with a maximum of three times the initial amount, that is, up to 30 euros. . The Department of Housing has not made a calculation of the economic amount that the collection of the canon could entail, since its purpose “is not collection”, said the counselor Arriola, although it has specified that the funds obtained by the municipalities will be destined to municipal housing policies.
The economic penalty will not be effective in cases in which unemployment is justified, such as second residence homes, cases of temporary relocation of residence for work, health, dependency or social emergency, and homes offered for sale or rent at prices market for a minimum of three months. Also exempt are flats that are assigned to the administration for protected rental, those of non-profit entities to accommodate migrants, disabled people or victims of gender violence and those that are being rehabilitated or do not have the minimum conditions of habitability.
Forced rent or expropriation
The Government has included in the decree the option of “forced rent” for empty residences located in “stressed areas”. The areas in which two requirements are met are thus defined: on the one hand, there must be at least 100 rental applicants registered in Etxebide (Basque housing service) whose requests have not been attended to in the previous two years and, furthermore, that the average rental prices in the area are at least 10% higher than the average rent in the town.
Forced rent may be ordered on dwellings that remain unoccupied after one year has elapsed since its declaration as uninhabited dwelling and the dwelling will be obliged to have the dwelling for public rent for a maximum of five years, extendable for another five. The owners will receive a rent for that rental or compensation if there is no agreement on the price.
For the “most extreme” cases, the decree contemplates the figure of compulsory expropriation, which will be applied to uninhabited homes for more than a year in areas of proven demand when the expropriation is adequate to guarantee its use or in cases in which this residence is at risk of ruin or fails to comply with conservation regulations and creates insecurity for people. In these cases, their rehabilitation and making them available to non-profit associations will be prioritized.
The route of forced expropriation, included in the Basque Housing Law approved in 2015, was appealed to the Constitutional Court in 2016 by the then Government headed by Mariano Rajoy (PP). In a ruling known at the end of 2018, the high court endorsed the capacity of the Basque Government and the municipalities to proceed with the forced expropriation in the extraordinary cases mentioned above.