Tenants' union interrupts Spanish transports minister's speech to demand rent cap law

Raquel Sánchez visited Barcelona to announce plans for improved Sants train station

A tenants' union activist holding a sign in front of a Mossos d'Esquadra police agent in Barcelona on September 16, 2022 (courtesy of the tenants' unions)
A tenants' union activist holding a sign in front of a Mossos d'Esquadra police agent in Barcelona on September 16, 2022 (courtesy of the tenants' unions) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

September 16, 2022 04:21 PM

"Reguleu els lloguers!" (Regulate rents!) dozens of activists shouted at Spanish transport minister Raquel Sánchez while giving a speech in Barcelona on Friday. The policymaker was interrupted mid-discourse by the tenants’ union demanding a rent cap law. 

The demonstration was organized coinciding with the minister's visit to the Catalan capital to announce the future Sants train station’s refurbishment plans. There, dozens of activists urged her to put an end to abusive price increases, which have worsened with the ongoing inflation crisis.

Several demonstrators tried to enter the temporarily installed tent where Sánchez was speaking, but law enforcement agents stopped them. After the press conference, the minister briefly spoke with two of the union’s spokespersons. 

However, before meeting with the union’s representatives, a local resident demanded that the Spanish leader stop rent price increases during the Q&A session.

"The government has not changed anything and they are not doing anything," Carme Arcarazo, a tenants’ union spokesperson, said. "We came here to demand the Spanish government pass an emergency decree freezing all rents until the housing law is approved," she added. 

Despite the short encounter, union members argued they have been trying to schedule a meeting with her for over four months to discuss the Spanish housing policy. However, they claim Sánchez only replied with "excuses" and either "she is incompetent or she has been taken captive by the real estate lobby," activists told the media.  

Barcelona mayor supports freezing rent prices

The housing crisis not only affects a few but is rather a widespread issue. This is why Barcelona mayor Ada Colau urged Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez on Thursday to greenlight a decree freezing rent prices.

This would be a temporary solution until the housing law, currently in Congress, is approved. "Families need immediate intervention," Colau said.

The mayor highlighted the importance of this action as many rent contracts will finish soon and tenants will have to contend with record-high inflation. To withstand the war effects on Spain, the government limited new or updated rental contracts increase by at most 2% regardless of the inflation rate, until December 2022.

"There is no regulation or control at all. Landlords can increase the rent by 10%, 20%, or 30%," Ada Colau said on Thursday.

Catalonia has tried to limit prices with a rent cap law which was mostly annulled by Spain’s Constitutional Court back in March 2022. The legislation came into effect in September 2020 and affected up to 61 cities and towns in Catalonia.

The court revoked the law to limit rent prices in some areas of the territory as it is the "state who sets the obligatory contractual standards," a press release read. This means, according to magistrates, Catalonia has overstepped its powers related to housing. 

The decision came after the conservative People’s Party appealed the bill in Spain’s highest judicial administration.

Sants train station refurbished by 2026

Currently, the biggest train station in Barcelona, Sants estació, will be completely renovated starting in 2023. The first phase will be finished by 2026, as the city council announced in a joint press conference with the Spanish transport ministry. 

The main reforms will see a change in the Plaça dels Països Catalans square. Right now it is home to a gray cement area with two drop-off areas, but in the future, it will boast a green park with no cars and more space for residents to walk. 

A 3D drawing of Sants train station after the refurbishment (courtesy of ADIF)

Works will also include a bigger hall and doubling, the area for trains up to 36,000 square meters.

ADIF, the company that manages the infrastructure, will invest around €410 million, while the city council did not announce the budget they will be allocating to the Sants station reform.

The goal is to increase capacity by 2030 to accommodate around 58 million passengers per year.

However, four years earlier, the high-speed train, Rodalies commuting trains, and medium-distance ones will use the station’s new halls. By then, it will also have doors on its sides, instead of only in the front and the back of the building.

A 3D drawing of the interior of Sants train station after the refurbishment (courtesy of ADIF)