Heir hunters on the prowl in Spain

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HIGH RENT: Barceloneta beach. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

ON dying in 1973, the owner of a Barceloneta apartment building had no wife or children to inherit the property.

His nearest relations declined to take on the legacy but decades later two descendants, presumably contacted by an “heir hunting” company, claimed their inheritance in high-rent Barceloneta.

Forty-three years earlier when their landlord died, tenants of the 12 apartments asked at the Chamber of Housing and the town hall what they should do.

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The officials were unsure but one recommended that they paid the IBI rates.  “That way you won’t have problems,” they were assured.

For the next 43 years they did not pay rent but paid all taxes, made necessary repairs and installed natural gas.

As registered tenants died or moved out, their apartments were transferred to family or friends without formalising the changeover.  The most recent arrivals have been there 10 years

But last year the building, still in the dead owner’s name, was re-registered to two people and a company.

The tenants, asked to leave by an intermediary, refused to go. In June this year a new proprietor contacted them, asking to be recognised as the owner with another request to vacate their homes.

“For more than 40 years the tenants have acted as owners. Without us, this would be a ruin,” said Antonia who was born in the building in 1943.

Montse Serrano, the lawyer representing the tenants, claimed that this is not an isolated case.

“We can’t say for certain why this late claim was made,” Serrano admitted.  “But we know that forensic genealogy and probate research companies are proliferating.  They track down the relatives of people whose estates were never claimed, charging a commission on the inheritance.”

Two tenants have started legal proceedings to claim ownership of their apartments as they can prove that they lived there for more than 30 years, acting as owners and “occupying the property peacefully, publicly and continuously.”

Others will follow suit once they have the necessary documents.

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