Two more Spanish regions take steps to stop evictions

Two more Spanish regional governments have adopted measures to reduce a glut of empty homes and fight evictions which have soared in the country as it grapples with a record unemployment rate of 26 percent.

The president of the regional government of the Canary Islands, Paulino Rivero, said late on Tuesday his administration will shortly table a law which will expropriate properties from which needy people are about to be evicted for up to three years to allow them to continue to live there.

The archipelago's government will also draw up a list of empty homes and introduce penalties against banks and real estate firms that hold on to empty homes which are fit to live in a bid to increase the pool of affordable housing, Rivero told the region's parliament.

"We have a moral and legal obligation to look for responses to one of the most painful aspects of the economic crisis, home evictions," he wrote later on his account on social networking site Google+.

The regional government of Catalonia announced Monday that it would introduce a tax on empty homes held by banks and real estate firms "to prevent homes from remaining permanently empty and to foster the growth of the rental market."

Catalonia, which includes the second-largest Spanish city Barcelona, has 450,000 empty homes, including 80,000 new homes, according to regional government figures.

Earlier this month the regional government of Andalucia, Spain's most populous region and the one with the highest unemployment rate, issued a decree allowing it to expropriate homes for up to three years to allow families facing eviction to continue to live there.

Families that benefit from the measure will have to pay a modest rent to the regional government, which will compensate property owners.

The measures adopted by the regional governments were criticised by the president of the Association of Spanish banks Miguel Martin, who said "Spain was following the road of Argentina instead of Europe" in a reference to the nationalisation of Spanish firms by the government of Buenos Aires.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said a new mortgage law which Spain's lower house of parliament approved last week "offered solutions" to the problem of evictions.

"This is what is really useful for people, not populist measures," he said Wednesday during a debate in parliament.

The new mortgage law, which still must be approved by the Senate, makes it easier for those with payment difficulties to keep their homes but does not go as far as demands presented by a protest movement against evictions for the law to be changed 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.