Chief Inspector Borja Luengo. | Julio Bastida

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According to Spain's interior ministry, there were 325 known cases of squatting in the Balearics in 2020, 266 of these in Mallorca. The great majority were in Palma, where squatting is most common in more deprived neighbourhoods such as Camp Redó and Son Gotleu. The police say that this doesn't mean that a mansion in Son Vida can't be occupied; but it would be unusual.

The profile of squatters ranges from people with real need for somewhere to live to the criminal gangs, some of which have been known to occupy an apartment and use it to grow marijuana. Electricity is stolen from the community, and this can mean a fire risk because of an overload.

The main targets for squatting are properties owned by banks and other financial institutions. As these are large businesses, squatting is perceived as being impersonal. Neighbours might be more sympathetic as well. But even if some people might look the other way, the police say that the public are now very conscious of the problem of squatting and so the number of complaints and notifications has risen.

Borja Luengo is chief inspector of the National Police 'Lightning' Squad, which is at the frontline in responding to calls about squatting. He points to how crucial speed of response can be. "The very moment of illegal entry is the best time to solve the problem. If it's necessary to have to date when people occupied a property, it's more difficult. We have to gather evidence and that requires a process. Everyone tends to argue that they have been there for three or four days, despite the fact that they've just kicked the door open.

"We have to prove whether or not the property can be classified as a squatter's dwelling. If we enter and find mattresses, toothbrushes, clothing and personal effects, these indicate that the person lives in the property as a dwelling, even sporadically. A judge then has to assess the matter. Otherwise, we have the power to enter the home, arrest the person who has occupied it and return the property to its rightful owner immediately."

Chief Inspector Luengo is referring to a 2015 change to the Penal Code. In the case of squatting, this combines the concepts of dwelling and right to privacy. The dwelling is defined as a place where a person has private space, regardless of whether the property legally belongs to him or her. Consequently, if someone breaks into a home by force and spends several days there, it becomes more difficult to make that person leave, and so a judicial decision is needed.

When it comes to criminal gangs, police procedures are now such that they look to charge people with other crimes, most obviously being a member of a criminal organisation. Punishment for this is tougher, and it can act as a way of dissuading squatting.