EDITION: April - June 2016

Finding solutions to Ibiza’s rental shortage

By Carmen Loren Ceballos
Those of us who have tried to find affordable rental housing on Ibiza may not be aware of Chapter 47 of the Spanish Constitution which states the following:

“All Spanish citizens have the right to enjoy adequate and decent housing. The public authorities will promote the necessary conditions and establish the required legislation to make this right effective, regulating the use of land in the general interest in order to avoid speculation. The community will participate in the capital gains generated by real estate activity carried out by public entities.”

The right to housing is also covered in article 25 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The law seems pretty clear, yet for quite some time there has been an increasing number of residents (including those born on the Ibiza) who have had to leave the island due to the impossibility of finding homes to rent at reasonable prices. We are talking about people and families who cannot afford an apartment or house to rent even though they have steady jobs. Inflated prices, plus deposits, commissions and huge guarantees (which are not included in the urban rental legislation or LAU) are part of the problem. In addition there is illegal sub-letting of houses and rooms at astronomical prices that are created by the demand in the summer season. Finally there is the rampant speculation of illegal housing agents and illicit middle-men who have found here on Ibiza an excellent breeding ground to turn a basic need, that is supposedly protected by our Constitution, into a prohibitive luxury item.

The situation has reached a breaking point, with countless people desperately searching for a place to live, while at the same time thousands of properties remain empty for most of the year. Some belong to owners who keep their apartments closed in the winter, waiting to make the most of the next summer season by renting them out to tourists – sometimes illegally. Other properties are in the hands of financial entities that have purchased them on speculation. The need to find and apply solutions to this reality is urgent and important. In other regions of Spain there are examples of both private and public initiatives that have been conceived with the aim of alleviating the problem of access to rental housing, and these could serve as an inspiration for the measures that could be taken in Ibiza.

In order to find out about these projects, I took the opportunity to have a long conversation with the director of the first real estate company in Spain that is defined as “ethical”. It is called Etikalia and has its headquarters in Bilbao (Basque Country), one of the most expensive Spanish capital cities for house rentals. Roberto Cacho, its managing director, explains that their work is based on what they call “the triple base line”: economic, social and environmental. They have developed a novel system to encourage property owners to put empty homes on the rental market. They do this by offering to the landowners a professional follow-up and management service for each rental property. In this way they are able to mediate between the tenant and the owner for the duration of the rental and even afterwards. The tenant do not pay for these services, and are not charged any commissions nor deposits that are not contained in the LAU.

We also discussed the actions taken by the Basque Government in response to the problem of access to affordable housing. Before working at Etikalia, Roberto Cacho was responsible for the Basque public housing rental programme, “Bizigune”, which according to him has worked quite successfully over the past several years and includes around 4,000 properties all over the Basque Country. This is an initiative in which the regional government encourages getting empty homes on the market by using them for rotational social rentals at €300 a month. In addition, with the approval last June of the new Basque housing legislation, what is called the “subjective right to housing” gives every citizen registered as living in the Basque Country the right to rent a home. If the person cannot access one, s/he can claim it from the administration and even go to court if the latter does not respond. Also, the law includes penalties for empty homes or apartments. Owners who have not rented an empty house for more than two years (except for summer homes) will have to pay a cannon, established at 10 euros per square metre, which will increase each year that the house is not lived in.

These are some examples of measures that are being applied already in other regions. In order for something like this to take place on Ibiza we need for a critical mass of citizens to call attention to this problem and generate public opinion in favour of those affected by this situation. The best way to get the government to act is by coming together to generate awareness amongst the island community. For several months there has already been some mobilization through various Facebook pages and citizen platforms that are trying to give voice to those affected and they have even taken actions like presenting complaints before the Tax administration.

Summoning the political will to devote resources to alleviating this situation is a key to its solution, and this can only come through more awareness and sensitivity in the community. The government administration needs to encourage empty properties being put on the rental market, and also set up social rental programmes. They will only do this if the public understands the hugely negative impact caused by speculation as a way of making a living and of homes standing empty. Remember that the Constitution says, “All Spanish citizens have the right to enjoy adequate and decent housing.” Let us hope that the authorities here on Ibiza get that message and do more to make living here affordable.