Spanish renters are declaring 'war' on the American investors that bought up all the apartments in their neighborhoods

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  • US private equity firms that own property in Spain have been evicting residents during the pandemic, the NYT reports.
  • Tenants and housing activists have declared “war,” protesting evictions by squatting in apartments.
  • They argue that the investment firms have been profiting off the economic strain caused by the pandemic.

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Renters who can’t afford to pay their landlords are being evicted, and they’re furious about it. They’re especially mad that their landlord is a large investment firm headquartered in Wall Street.

But what if I told you this was happening thousands of miles away from New York City, an ocean away even, in Spain? And what if I told you the Spanish evictees aren’t taking it lying down?

Large American private equity firms have been evicting renters from their apartments in Spain as the residents have struggled to pay rent during the pandemic. Renters, however, have been organizing against the landlords, lawyers, and police officers trying to evict them, refusing to leave their own homes and squatting in others. 

A group called “Guerra a Cerberus” — War Against Cerberus — has been fighting back against eviction attempts, The New York Times reported this week. The organization, made up of both residents and long term housing activists in Spain, are protesting the firms that they argue have been profiting off the financial strain of the pandemic, as well as the court system, which they view as favoring landlords in eviction cases. 

Cerberus — named for the three-headed dog that guards the underworld in Greek mythology — is a giant investment firm that began buying cheap properties across Spain after the global financial crisis started in 2008. Cerberus and other firms, such as Blackstone and Lone Star, are based in the US, but collectively purchased thousands of properties across the European country. 

Members of War Against Cerberus have been taking action when police officers and lawyers representing private equity firms attempt to force residents out of their homes. As they are physically removed from their apartments, members of the organization squat in properties owned by the firms in other parts of the city. 

Dozens of households have occupied buildings owned by private equity firms, War Against Cerberus told the Times. The pressure the squatters exert on the large firms is quantifiable: it can take several years in court and millions of dollars in legal fees to have squatters removed. 

War Against Cerberus often posts their encounters with law enforcement on social media. They also use platforms such as Twitter to rally support when residents are evicted from their homes. 

“Today the vulture fund Cerberus wants to take out Yousra and her family,” the group posted on Twitter last week. “The neighborhood has woken up with people from all over, showing an organized and combative movement.” A picture posted with the tweet shows a blockade that the group formed in front of the apartment they were demonstrating in front of. 

“Our lives are worth more than all their properties, so #GuerraACerberus,” an organizer shouted during one group meeting in October. 

The housing crisis in Spain worsened during the pandemic — with evictions rising by 14% in early 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, according to the government — but has been hitting residents hard since the financial crisis of 2008. Homeowners went bankrupt, evictions rose, and thousands of people lost their homes. In the last decade, the number of renters in Spain grew by more than 40 percent, the Times estimates.

Spanish politicians have recently proposed legislation to curb the influence of large firms in the country, joining governments worldwide attempting to address the housing crisis. 

The country’s left-wing government proposed a housing law that it said would protect tenants against investment funds and other big landlords this month. Spain is just one of several countries witnessing bold new action in the name of housing affordability. In Berlin, residents even voted for the city to seize apartments from the city’s biggest landlords.

“We are beginning to put limits to this and say to the big landlords that they can keep doing housing business, but not at any price,” Ione Belarra, leader of the Podemos party in Spain, told Financial Times in November. “Not at the price that there are evictions, or that people have to pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent.”