A woman jumped to her death as bailiffs approached to evict her from her fourth-floor Spanish apartment for failing to pay the mortgage.
It was the second apparent suicide linked to evictions and further highlights the dire conditions many Spaniards find themselves in as the country’s economy sinks.
The government recently created a task force to study how to reduce evictions because of the devastating personal impact of repossessions due to tough mortgage rules and growing unease among the public on the subject.
The unnamed 53-year-old woman threw herself from her balcony in a suburb of Bilbao, the regional Interior Ministry said. She worked at a local bus depot, was married to a former town councillor and had a 21-year-old daughter.
Local judge Juan Carlos Mediavilla said at the scene that it was “necessary to amend current mortgage legislation” to prevent a recurrence of such events. Employment and social security minister Fatima Banez said last night that the government deeply regretted the woman’s death.
Homeowners in Spain face greater risks than mortgage-holders in many countries. If they are unable to make the agreed mortgage payments – through unemployment or low income – they can get evicted but also remain liable to repay whatever value is left on the mortgage after the repossession.
Since the 2008 property crash, more than 350,000 people have been caught in this trap. There are another 500 evictions a day, according to government figures.
On October 25 Jose Miguel Domingo, 53, was found dead in the courtyard of his building in Granada moments after bailiffs appeared to evict him. A day later another 53-year-old man who had been unemployed for four years jumped out of his apartment window in the eastern town of Burjassot as eviction loomed. He survived the fall.
The dramatic impact that repossessions can have on individuals spurred prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s government to create the task force and the latest death will add pressure on the group to find solutions.
“We must find the most effective means to alleviate the situation experienced by people who are losing their homes,” deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said earlier this month.
On Thursday the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, Juliane Kokott, handed down a non-binding legal opinion that criticised Spanish legal rules regarding evictions, saying they were incompatible with European norms, according to Spanish media reports.
The ruling came in response to a query from a Spanish court on a 2011 lawsuit over an eviction due to an unpaid mortgage. Ms Kokott said the Spanish system did not sufficiently protect consumers against possible abusive clauses in mortgage contracts.
An improvement in the property market is not expected any time soon. The government predicts Spain’s economy, which is now in recession, will not grow until 2014. Unemployment is at a staggering rate of 25%.