The Basque Country manages to reduce the vacant housing stock without imposing sanctions |  Basque Country

The Basque Country manages to reduce the vacant housing stock without imposing sanctions | Basque Country

The empty housing stock has been reduced by 25% in the Basque Country. The last record made in 2022 figures at 11,434 floors that have remained without continuous use for at least two years. They are 3,666 less than in the previous count, from 2019. The drop has occurred without any sanction being applied to their owners, as stipulated by Basque regulations. The autonomous government approved in June 2021 a decree that contemplates economic sanctions (a fiscal canon of 10 euros per year per square meter) that try to penalize residential vacancy. The municipalities, in charge of executing this measure, have not yet put it into practice. The Department of Housing considers, however, that the existence of this tax has served, among other factors, to place houses that were previously uninhabited on the market.

“The slowdown in the construction of new homes in the Basque Country, the public Bizigune program that encourages the social rental of empty flats and the dissuasive effect that the tax on uninhabited housing has had are the main factors that have contributed to reducing this phenomenon” , explains Pedro Jauregui, Deputy Minister of Housing. The official statistics that measure the behavior of the use of housing in this community reveals an evolution towards greater use of homes as first residence. Of the existing 1,073,955, 92% are main. The trend confirms a decrease in those that have not been occupied for more than two years without justifiable cause and, for this reason, are likely to punish their owners. It has gone from 15,100 empty homes in 2019 to the current 11,434.

The Basque Executive approved a regulation in mid-2021, under the Basque Housing Law (2015), which aims to bring out flats that are uninhabited for a long period of time. Its owners can be fined with an annual tax of 10 euros per useful square meter, which will increase by 10% for each year that it remains unoccupied, with a maximum of three times the initial amount, that is, up to 30 euros. The town councils are entrusted with the task of certifying if they are unoccupied by checking the register and inspecting the “abnormally low” consumption of electricity, water and gas. The consistories also assume the collection of the tax. The regulations contemplate the forced rental and even the expropriation of uninhabited flats in areas where the need for housing is higher.

No sanctions have been recorded in all this time. Jauregui assures that the municipalities of San Sebastián and Vitoria have committed to applying it from 2024. The one in Bilbao is more advanced. He prepares a municipal census of uninhabited housing and plans to carry out an information campaign aimed at owners with the options they have to use their residences. The Vizcaya capital’s Housing Area will put up posters with the motto “If you have an empty flat, we’ll help you turn it into a home” and will open an office shortly to advise and help incorporate them into the rental market. Jauregui affirms that “the collection of the fiscal canon corresponds to the municipalities, but it is an unpopular measure and nobody wants to apply it in a pre-electoral period.” “It is a responsibility of corporations. The Government limits itself to establishing a regulatory framework aimed at mobilizing these floors ”, he adds.

No forced rent

If there has been no disciplinary action, no forced rental has been ordered either, an action that is also included in the aforementioned decree for cases in which a home that has been declared uninhabited remains unused for another year. The phenomenon of empty housing, in the opinion of the Basque vice-councillor of the branch, “is not an alarming problem” in this community, although he adds that “whenever there is only one uninhabited, you have to try to occupy it.” In full national debate on the figure of rents in the housing law, Jauregui admits that Euskadi suffers from “a very low rental rate”, located at 13%, below the national average (18%) and very far of the European (26%).

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The measure that is proving most effective in the fight against empty flats is the Bizigune program, which has been running since 2013 and whose objective is to attract unoccupied flats to put them on the market through renting at affordable prices. Last year it closed with just over 7,000 of these residences, 3,000 more than five years before. The owners make them available to the Government’s public housing society and are intended for people whose economic resources are not sufficient to access the free market. The autonomous Executive allocated 25 million euros last year to finance this program.

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