Madrid/Palma.—Banks seized nearly 40'000 homes in Spain last year due to unpaid mortgages, official data showed yesterday, as a sharp economic downturn and record unemployment took its toll.

A total of 39'167 homes were seized in 2012, the Bank of Spain said in a bulletin based on a survey of lenders which approve over 85 percent of mortgages in the country.

It is the first time the central bank has published figures on the number of homes seized by banks.
The Bank of Spain plans to publish the figure each quarter from now on.
The vast majority of homes seized last year, 32'490, were considered primary dwellings, with the rest either secondary residences used as holiday properties or rented out.

Jump in evictions
Over half of the primary dwellings seized last year, or 18'325, were handed over voluntarily while in 14'165 cases lenders had to go to court to gain control of the property.

The jump in evictions has soared to the top of the political agenda due to a series of suicides by people who were about to be thrown out of their homes and television images of weeping families forced out on the street.

It has also sparked a protest movement which sends activists to block the entrance to homes of people about to be evicted in order to prevent police from forcibly removing them from their homes.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's centre right government has introduced several measures to help struggling families remain in their homes. However, it has refused to bow to campaigners' demands to change Spain's mortgage laws to allow defaulters' debts to be erased if they turn in the keys to their home.

Under Spanish law most people still have to pay off their mortgage debt even after eviction.
Spain is grappling with a double-dip recession caused by the collapse of a property bubble in 2008 which has caused the unemployment rate to soar to a record 27 percent.