Twenty-seven of the apartments are in Mallorca. | Pere Bota


On Tuesday, the Balearic housing minister, Josep Marí, signed the authorisation for the expropriation of 56 properties belonging to large owners. These are apartments which have been empty for two years or longer, are owned by banks and real-estate companies and have been registered as empty with the government; 27 are in Mallorca, 23 in Minorca and six in Ibiza. Once relevant procedures are completed, the properties will be for social rent by those who are on the Ibavi housing agency's waiting list.

These procedures could, however, take some time, and there is the possibility of legal challenges. The government will pay compensation of 1.8 million euros, an amount said to be 40% below the total market value.

The housing ministry has described this development, which was included in the recent housing law, as "pioneering". It takes apartments off the "speculative free market" and puts them in the hands of those who most need them.

Since Marí signed the authorisation on Tuesday, there has been reaction against the expropriation. The leader of the opposition Partido Popular, Biel Company, has described it as "a populist measure in the style of Venezuelan Chavismo (after former president Hugo Chávez)".

Company has observed that the government has adopted this policy because its housing policy has been a failure. Without entering into the political debate, a law firm - Círculo Legal Barcelona - says that the government is acting in the way that it is "because it does not have sufficient housing stock to be able to offer rentals to vulnerable groups".

Arantxa Goenaga, a partner with the firm, agrees that there could be legal challenges, adding that the government's move "brings into focus another debate in the field of constitutional rights" - that of decent housing. She suggests that the expropriation may actually contribute to lower rents. "Owners could rent at a lower prices in order to be able to keep control of the property and not allow it to go on the official registry."