The Government plans to take to the Council of Ministers on Tuesday an appeal before the Constitutional Court against the Catalan law that regulates rental prices, alleging that it violates state powers, but will not request its automatic suspension. This has been explained this Monday by sources from the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Function, which emphasize that, in this way, the Catalan norm will remain in force until a state rental law is approved or until the Constitutional law resolves. The Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (which has state powers in Housing), José Luis Ábalos, has justified in an appearance before the press that it was “impossible” not to present this appeal.
The Parliament approved last September a pioneering law to regulate rents in Catalonia with the support of Junt per Catalunya, ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP, promoters of the rule together with the tenant unions and the Generalitat. Among the measures contained in the norm is the obligation to freeze or lower the price of rents if areas with residential “tension” are detected in the 60 Catalan cities that have more than 20,000 inhabitants. “Vulnerable” lessors are exempt from this obligation, considering as such those who enter less than 2,000 euros per month. The norm establishes an official price scale by zones of which the new lease contracts cannot exceed, which must take as a ceiling the amount that the previous contract for the same property provided, if this were lower.
At the time, PSC, Cs and PPC opposed the law because a Catalan consultative body, the Consell de Garanties Estatutàries, warned that several of its articles violated state powers. Although the autonomous communities have transferred many competencies in housing, the law that regulates housing rentals (the Urban Leasing Law or LAU) is statewide and establishes in one of its articles that the price is the one freely agreed by the parties. The popular ones were the first to challenge the norm before the Constitutional Court, last December. The Government initiated the mechanism to do the same, opening a period of bilateral negotiations with the Generalitat to try to remedy it. This procedure is the “normal” one, says a spokeswoman for Territorial Policy, who explains that said period expires on June 21. Therefore tomorrow is the last Council of Ministers in which the appeal could be approved. However, the same source points out that the negotiations remain open, leaving the door open for an out-of-court solution if a last-minute agreement is reached.
But in his weekly appearance at the headquarters on Calle Ferraz as secretary of organization of the PSOE, Ábalos has considered “impossible” that there is no recourse. The also Minister of Urban Agenda has assured that “the unconstitutionality is so evident that it cannot be ignored.” The appeal, unavoidable according to what Ábalos said, could further strain the negotiations of the future housing negotiation, since one of the objectives of United We Can was precisely to shield Catalan law. Nor Ábalos has ignored this circumstance: “Everything we can do in favor of housing must have legal solidity,” the minister has remarked. A source from his department recalls that what the Government is working on is a law that is “rigorously constitutional” and that it be approved with “legal certainty.”
Unlike the appeal put forward by the PP, the one that comes from the Government has the ability to request the automatic suspension of the challenged rule. However, that will not be done, what Ábalos has considered “an important gesture.” The regulation of rents in Catalonia will therefore continue in force until a new norm or the Constitutional one is pronounced, something that will undoubtedly help to reduce the tension between the Executive and the Generalitat as well as between the two Government partners. Last week, without going any further, Unidos Podemos joined the request of other groups in Congress for the Government not to appeal the law.
The announcement of this Monday has not liked the tenant unions either, who have called protest cacerolas this Monday at the headquarters of the PSOE. A spokesman for these groups in Catalonia has assured, in statements released to the media, that the protest seeks to “make it clear to the ministers involved, to Minister Ábalos and to the Minister [de Política Terrotorial, Miquel] Iceta, that what cannot be done is to threaten millions of people with eliminating the price caps and allowing them to be exposed to abusive price increases ”. One of the most numerous concentrations is the one that has taken place in front of the PSC headquarters on Pallars street in Barcelona. The call has been repeated in other cities such as Sabadell (Barcelona), Madrid and Zaragoza.
“A very serious mistake” for ERC
For her part, the ERC spokesperson, Marta Vilalta, has considered “a very serious error” that the Government is going to appeal the Catalan law, even if it does not request the precautionary suspension. Vilalta maintains that with this decision the Executive of Pedro Sánchez pronounces against a decision approved in the Catalan Parliament. “The law is working very well and prices are being lowered,” Vilalta has warned. “The obligation of political leaders is to help people, who do not understand competitions between institutions, but to be able to have a home.” The Republican has called on the central government to, instead of resorting to the law, approve a similar one at the state level.
For her part, the leader of the commons in the Parliament, Jéssica Albiach, has agreed that Catalan law has not been automatically suspended and, like Vilalta, has asked to pass a state law to “shield” a rule that benefits to “thousands of people.” The commons, members of the Government coalition, maintain that they have been pressuring the PSOE not to ask for the suspension of the norm.