Júlia Martínez arrived in her new apartment about three years ago. Everything seems good: I will pay more than 800 euros in rent for a five-year contract. But before signing he was informed that he had to pay a 1,400 euro fee to the property manager. He knew that soon after, Royal Decree 7/2019 was implemented, which ordered that the fees should be paid on the property. But if he does not comply, the contract will not be closed. “I’ve made the move in the middle, what do I do?” he asked himself.
“Feasibility study, personal shopper…” and other tricks by real estate companies to break the law and charge renters fees
Júlia signed, though she didn’t stop. He then went to the Barcelona Tenants’ Union and it didn’t take him long to find out that he wasn’t the only one. He discovered that his farm was a vertical property – all the apartments were owned by the same owner – and that all his neighbors were being charged fees contrary to what the law dictated. From there, they pulled the string. A thread turned into a skein formed by a “network of companies” acting as owners and belonging to the same family: Monleon-Pagès. And all properties managed by the same management company: Rentaz.
After months of research and door-to-door work, they discovered more than 50 properties in this condition, all in Barcelona. They denounced the collection of the bills as a “scam” and almost half a million euros if all those affected were added up. “And that’s just the cases we’re aware of,” the Union warned. They also learned that in addition to illegally charging fees – at the signing of new contracts and at renewals – the company charged them for cleaning costs in many properties where no one would clean and that many buildings and houses have disabilities and defects that “depart from the housing conditions prescribed by law,” the Union pointed out.
Faced with these abuses, they were able to mobilize hundreds of neighbors and take actions in front of the company’s headquarters until they began to meet with them. For two months, the tenants, the company and the Tenants’ Union were immersed in negotiations to reach an agreement to compensate those affected. And they got it.
They report non-compliance
The agreement, in which the company acknowledges that it charges even though it is prohibited by law, stipulates that Rentaz must pay the fees corresponding to all contracts signed since the approval of the Decree Law. the deficiencies of the properties and to leave in writing the condition of the apartment at the time of signing the contract to facilitate the return of the deposit.
The company even agreed to increase the resistance fund of the Tenants’ Union with 50,000 euros as a ‘negotiation commission’. “This is a common payment for unions participating in collective bargaining,” said Carme Arcarazo, the group’s spokesperson. “This is a historic agreement, a total victory that housing unionism has never seen before,” he said.
All this in exchange for the Union agreeing to stop moving, not to file any lawsuits, not to make public the name of the property, and to keep the agreement under a confidentiality clause. So why do we know the name of the Monleon-Pagès family and the details of the agreement? “Primarily because the company failed to fulfill its part,” the Union concluded.
The agreement establishes that the property must send a communication to all the people who have signed a contract with them since the approval of the Royal Decree. Then, they must send documentation and, from there, the money must be returned to them within 60 calendar days. “But we immediately saw that they would not comply,” explained Anna Vallejo, a member of the Union’s legal team and a participant in the negotiations.
From this group they criticized that there are people who did not even receive the communication where the property informed them that they have the right to recover their money. And, of those notified, only a few recovered the money. In fact, the Union estimates that only 14% of those affected have been compensated. One of them is Júlia. He received his 1,400 euros, but exceeded the 60-day period, so – according to the signed agreement – the company must pay him late payment interest that they did not receive.
Back to mobilization
Júlia knew she was lucky, because there were hundreds more waiting. Like Patricia Mestres. He learned about the situation when the Union knocked on his door. In fact, his intention before contacting them was to leave the apartment due to its poor condition. “Leaks, humidity and even a hole in the ceiling,” listed this young woman, lamenting that they did not respond to her emails and calls complaining. The silence of the property and manager is one of the recurring complaints of its tenants and, in fact, this medium was unable to contact any of them for the preparation of this report.
After the agreement was signed, it took a long time for the hole in Patricia’s roof to be repaired. Not like the humidity or the leaks and, in addition, he has not yet recovered the 1,130 euros he paid in compensation for his 670 apartment. He wants to go to a better place, but there are various things that stop him. First, he wants to save so he can pay the deposit on his new house, because “Rentaz won’t return the money deposited for the apartments that are already bad when you move in,” he said.
Also, he wanted to stay to fight. “On my farm, my neighbors are not very active,” he says, sadly, knowing that only “collective action” can solve their situation. The Union also believes this and regrets that Rentaz and Monleon-Pagès “concerned about the image to sign the agreement, but not enough to fulfill it,” said Arcarazo.
These housing activists are ready to go “as far as necessary” to “prove the constant non-compliance with the legal victories that have been achieved,” said the Union spokesperson. Because of this, this Saturday they held an assembly with all the affected neighbors to study the steps to follow after the dissolution of the agreement. “We are even considering taking legal action,” they warned.
The Union insists that, to avoid fraud, housing unionism must have the same enforcement as labor unionism. In this way, they said, rights can be recognized such as having a collective agreement – as they signed with Rentaz –, collective negotiations, the right to strike if the property does not comply or is allowed to accompany a tenant in the sign of the contract. “Or, to begin with, that there is an inspection and that the administrators impose on companies that fail to comply with the laws. We will go all out because it is clear that legislating is not enough,” said Arcarazo.