Spain to challenge Catalan rent cap law in Constitutional Court

Appeal angers activists although minister says measure will not be put on hold until ruling is issued

Sindicat de Llogateres tenants' union activists outside the Catalan parliament in September (by Marta Casado)
Sindicat de Llogateres tenants' union activists outside the Catalan parliament in September (by Marta Casado) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 15, 2021 01:25 PM

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will indeed challenge Catalonia's rent cap law on the basis that it is unconstitutional just under nine months after it came into force. This is the third Catalan law Pedro Sánchez's cabinet has taken to Spain's Constitutional Court. 

Approved by Catalan lawmakers last September with the support of ERC, JxCat, CUP, as well as the Catalan branch of the Socialist party's coalition partners, CatECP, and lauded by housing rights activists as a much-needed measure to counter rising rent prices, the conservative People's Party lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court, which is yet to rule on the matter, shortly thereafter.

Yet, although Spanish government appeals generally entail the automatic suspension of measures until a verdict is issued, the cabinet has not asked the court to put the rent cap law on hold.

On Monday, Spain's transport minister, José Luis Ábalos, said it was "impossible not to appeal" the law given the "overwhelmingly negative" findings the Council for Statutory Guarantees published in a non-binding report that had been requested by Ciudadanos and the People's Party. "If it is this clearly unconstitutional, we cannot ignore it."

This sentiment was echoed on Tuesday following the weekly cabinet meeting by government spokesperson María Jesús Montero, who argued that Catalonia had overstepped its authority as a regional power. 

The Spanish government's move to challenge the law does not come as a surprise to activists, however, as last week territorial policy minister Miquel Iceta angered them by claiming he had the "political, moral, and legal obligation" to challenge the law if he believed Catalonia was acting unconstitutionally.

Grassroots groups, including the Sindicat de Llogateres tenants' union or the PAH anti-eviction group, who argue the appeal will put thousands of families at risk, held a pots and pans protest outside the Socialist party headquarters in Barcelona on Monday evening as they anticipated the measure would be appealed the following day. Similar demonstrations also took place in Vilanova i la Geltrú, Girona, Madrid and Zaragoza. 

While the Socialist party questions the legality of Catalonia's rent cap measure, in Barcelona they are one of the parties that has backed an 8-point housing proposal that seeks to protect those at risk of losing their homes with the eventual approval of a Spain-wide law.

Catalonia criticizes 'awful' decision  

The Spanish government's move has been fiercely criticized from Catalonia, with Catalan authorities sending out a press release describing it as "awful."

According to ERC's spokesperson in Spain's Congress, Gabriel Rufián, his party is responsible for the fact that the law has not been provisionally suspended pending the Constitutional Court ruling on the matter. "For now, we have been able to get them to not put the law on hold," he said, adding that "there is still much work to be done."

"The bad news is that it is this hard for a seemingly progressive government to regulate rent prices," Rufián lamented. 

And while ECP also celebrated the Spanish cabinet's decision to not immediately put the law on hold, CUP and JxCat condemned the move for putting the regulation's long-term survival at risk. 

Death by suicide before eviction

On Monday, a 58-year-old man died by suicide in Barcelona just before he was about to be evicted from his apartment in the Sants area of the city. According to housing rights associations, the moratorium on evictions for vulnerable people has not helped everyone in need, and they have scheduled further protests in Sants as well as in front of the Spanish government delegation in Barcelona on Tuesday evening.

"The judge decided not to apply the moratorium on evictions despite a social services report demonstrating that he was vulnerable," Barcelona councilor for housing Lucía Martín explained. 

How does the rent cap law work?

The rent cap affects 61 cities and towns with over 20,000 inhabitants and with "tense housing markets." This includes the major cities of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. All 61 of these municipalities have seen average rent prices increase by at least 20% between 2014 and 2019. 

In these areas where affordable housing is scarce, the law dictates that rents must be determined by the Catalan Housing Agency's Average Price Index. Relevant information on the size and the year buildings were built can be looked up online at the Spanish ‘catastro’ land registry website to see how rent prices compare to others in the area.