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Spain: Forced eviction violated right to housing, say UN

GENEVA (30 October 2019) — Spain violated a family’s right to housing by failing to weigh their vulnerability in an eviction, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said in a decision published today in Geneva.

On 20 June 2018, a woman and her six children submitted a complaint alleging a violation of their right to housing by Spain. The family had been renting an apartment from a person who had turned out not to be the legal owner of the property. On 15 December 2014, the legal owner, a financial institution, had initiated legal proceedings to evict the family. The family requested social housing but was denied because under the applicable rules, individuals occupying property without a legal title are excluded from the regional social housing programme.

After domestic courts refused to suspend the eviction, the author brought her case to the UN Committee. The Committee, composed of 18 independent international experts, monitors State parties’ compliance of their obligations towards the human rights of citizens in countries which have signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and has a mandate to receive complaints from individuals who have no remaining options for legal action in their home countries. The Committee requested that Spain not evict the family while it was examining the case. The family, however, was evicted and proceeded to stay in two shared shelters, and as a result, two of the youngest sons (7 years old) were separated from their mother.

In its decision, the Committee determined that a State party cannot stipulate that a person who occupies a property without a legal title should be immediately evicted regardless of the circumstances, and without a court considering the proportionality of the measure. The Committee found that the court failed to weigh the protection of the right to property of the financial institution that owns the apartment against the consequences that this measure could have on the rights of the evicted persons.

The Committee also found that the rejection of the author’s application for social housing, based on the fact that the author was occupying property without a legal title, constituted a violation of the Covenant, for this placed the author at an impasse, forcing her and her children either to move into a temporary shared shelter or to live in destitution before being able to apply for social housing.

The Committee called upon Spain, which ratified the Covenant in 1977 and the Optional Protocol to the Covenant in 2010, to compensate the victims and to create a legal framework to prevent similar violations in the future. The experts requested that Spain respond to the Committee within six months to explain how it is implementing its decision.

The Committee’s full decision is available to read online here.

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