The first fine for charging tenants a rent price above the limit set out by Catalan law has been handed out in Barcelona.
Esteve and two other colleagues rented an apartment in Barcelona last December, paying €1,200 per month.
That is until they discovered, with the help of the Sindicat de Llogateres (Tenant Union), that the price was €250 higher than the Catalan income containment law allows.
Now, Barcelona City Council has imposed the first fine on the owner for exceeding the price set by regulation.
Catalan law that regulates the rental price came into force in September 2020 and is applied in the areas of the housing market.
It has two mechanisms of income containment, the reference index and, in the event that the housing has been rented in the last five years, the price of the previous contract.
“The lowest one acts as a ceiling, therefore, prices that were below the index are frozen and those that were above have to go down,” says Enric Aragones, spokesman for the Sindicat de Llogateres.
Regarding his situation, Esteve says that they asked the Institut Catala del Sol (Incasol) for information on when his apartment had been rented and at what price “and it turns out that there was a previous and recent contract of €950.”
In this case, as established by law, the rental price of the new contract could not exceed €950, but they were being charged €1,200.
After going to the property registry, Esteve also “discovered that the owner of the house was a company and not an individual as we had been led to believe, so the contract had to be for seven years and not five. They also had to return the €1,600 euros that we paid to the real estate company as fees, since, as the owner was a legal entity, they had to take over the ownership,” as established by the Urban Leasing Law.
“When we found out about everything, we contacted both the owner and the real estate agency and got two different responses. The real estate company told us that we were wrong and that the law did not say that, and the owner told us that the law seemed abusive, that he did not agree with it and that he would not rectify the price,” he says.
Esteve and his roommates tried “for a long time” to negotiate both a correction of the price and the return of the amounts paid in excess in the previous months, which add up to more than €2,000, in addition to the fees.
When they did not get a response, they finally filed a complaint with the administration.
During the process, they got the fees back, but the landlord did not want to sit down and negotiate the rental price.
“He has been missing for a long time and he has not answered us,” Esteve says.
He also says that one of the first responses they received from the property when commenting on the situation “was to tell us that, if we wanted, we could leave the apartment.”
“From minute zero, at we had many things to repair, doors that did not close, broken glass, the sink flooded and damp came out… We asked the property to fix it and they even told us that this was not a hotel, so the treatment has always been of contempt.”
After filing the complaint, the Barcelona City Council decided in favour of Esteve and his colleagues and fined the owner for having charged a rental price higher than that established by law.
According to the Sindicat de Llogateres, although they do not know the amount of the penalty, it should range between €9,000 and €90,000 “as it is a serious offence.”
Despite everything, both Esteve and his two roommates want to stay in the property.
The Sindicat de Llogateres said that “it is worrying that Barcelona City Council has taken more than a year to impose the first fine for a price higher than that established by law.”
They also detail that, although sanctioning proceedings have been initiated against landlords and real estate portals for not informing in their advertisements about the price of the index and the characteristics of the home, “the figure is insufficient.”
The union’s spokesman, Enric Aragones, said that the Catalan administration “is not being proactive when it comes to enforcing this law despite the fact that it was approved by an absolute majority in Parliament, with the votes of both parties of the Government (ERC and Junts ), as well as En Comu Podem and the CUP.”
He remarks that the Generalitat “should carry out a massive campaign so that there is not a single tenant who does not know that this regulation exists, how it works and how to find out if it is not being complied with.”
Last June, the central government decided to appeal the Catalan law regulating the rental price for “violating state powers.”
The Council of Ministers approved to present this appeal to the Constitutional Court, although it did not request its suspension while it is being resolved.
On Tuesday, October 26, the process of the state housing law that provides for regulating rents began, although, this is not in the same as Catalan regulations.
“We are waiting for what the Court says, but we defend the full constitutionality of this law because Catalonia has its own civil law,” says Aragones.
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