European court rules against Spanish eviction laws

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Media captionXimoara, evicted single mother in Spain: "I never thought I'd be on the streets"

Spanish laws are too tough on homeowners who default on their mortgages, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

The court found that Spanish legislation goes against EU law because it prevents judges declaring the terms of a loan agreement to be unfair.

Spanish rules make it hard for homeowners to contest an eviction by a bank.

Several recent suicides have been blamed on evictions.

An estimated 350,000 families have been evicted from their homes since Spain's property market crashed five years ago, and Spanish banks suspended evictions for the most vulnerable people last November.

Spanish homeowners under threat of repossession cannot stop the eviction process while they fight contentious clauses in their mortgage contracts.

If they win a court case, they may seek compensation but will not necessarily recover their homes.

Some contracts contain clauses allowing for a sharp increase in interest if a borrower falls behind on payments and Spanish law also gives the lender the right to start accelerated proceedings to evict the borrower if a single payment is missed.

Even after a home is repossessed by the lender, the borrower can still be held liable for the remainder of the loan.

Moroccan evicted

In its judgement, the European Court of Justice said Spanish judges should have the power to halt evictions while homeowners take legal action against clauses in their contracts.

"Spanish legislation infringes EU law to the extent that it precludes the court which has jurisdiction to declare unfair a term of a loan agreement," the court ruled.

A Barcelona judge had asked the European Court of Justice to decide on the case of a Moroccan man evicted from his home and unable to pay off the balance of a 138,000-euro (£120,000; $180,000) mortgage.

There have been demonstrations against the eviction laws and several people who had been evicted from their homes have killed themselves.

Reacting to the European Court of Justice decision, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said: "We commit ourselves to revise all aspects of the law that have been declared in breach of the European legislation."

Campaigners against evictions welcomed the ruling.

"We are very happy with the news because it's a clear show of support for what we have been demanding and denouncing for the past four years... that the procedure is illegal and violates fundamental rights," said Ada Colau from Stop Evictions.

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