Caracas, Venezuela, August 4, 2006 —On Tuesday, The Greater Metropolitan Caracas Mayor’s office approved a reform to its May 16th decree on housing expropriations, opening approximately 700 buildings throughout Caracas to the possibility of expropriation. The Association of Urban Real Estate Owners (APIUR) has criticized the move as “populist” and intended to hide the government’s inefficiencies in housing construction, while the Social Renters Foundation (FUSI) has applauded the move as a huge step forward in renter’s rights and in their struggle against the forced removal of renters across the metropolitan region.
The August 1st reform requires that in order for a building to be “expropriable,” it must have been constructed before January 2, 1987; have more than three apartments rented; have the same habitants living in those apartments for more than 10 years; and be located within the Greater Caracas Metropolitan region (which includes the municipalities of Libertador, Chacao, Baruta, Sucre and El Hatillo). Prior to the decree, only buildings that had all of the apartments rented for more than 10 years were “expropriable.”
According to El Universal, the reform also opened up the possibility of expropriation for buildings under horizontal proprietorship—a new legal definition of collective ownership in Venezuela, where a particular building is owned by several individuals or families. Each individual family owns a piece of the building, which they are free to sell or manage as they see fit. In order to expropriate a building under horizontal proprietorship, a majority of the habitants must agree to the expropriation.
The reform and decree come in response to the Caracas housing shortage and the increasing number of “illegitimate” evictions across the Venezuelan Capital. The reform further opens the door for renters who have been living in their apartment for more than 10 years to be able to legally acquire the deed to their home, and gives Caracas renters an extra tool in the struggle against forced evictions.
Renters must file a request and qualify for expropriation through the Housing Foundation of the Metropolitan District of Caracas (FUNVI) of the Caracas Metropolitan Mayor’s office. Once expropriated, the real estate can only be acquired by the families that currently are—and have been living—in the apartment. The long-time occupants of the apartment are the only ones permitted to file for expropriation.
Landlords will be paid an indemnization for the expropriation of their property by the Metropolitan government, who will then sell the apartments directly to the occupants. According to El Universal, “the mode of payment will depend on the results of the social-economic study. In any case the beneficiaries will receive preferential loans.” The elderly, sick, and incapacitated will be exempt from paying for the property.
APIUR has labeled the reform “populism with eyes on an election year” and has criticized it for leading to corruption, confusion, and false expectations. According to El Universal, APIUR Vice-president, Roberto Orta also stated that the Metropolitan Mayor’s office is attempting to hide the inefficiencies in the government’s ability to construct new homes due to the housing shortage.
Meanwhile, Veneconomy blasted the reform as a “tremendous irresponsibility.” “This new agreement not only attacks the right to private property, but also focuses on a middle class whose savings and only capital is it’s home,” said a recent Veneconomy article.
But renters and members of the fledgling Venezuelan renter’s movement are rejoicing.
In Caracas, due to the shortage of housing, rental prices have gone up. Families renting the same apartment for many years often have basic rent control, and pay very affordable rates. With rental prices on the rise, however, various landlords have moved to evict their current and longstanding tenants in order to raise the rent on new occupants.
According to Orangel Azoaje, one of the leaders of FUSI, formerly the Network of Evicted Renters, landlords usually use the excuse that the rental contract has expired in order to kick the renters out, even though after a stipulated period of time rental contracts are automatically renewed annually. Azoaje verified that in the past six months there have been approximately 300 such illegitimate eviction attempts in Caracas alone.
“But we don’t let these people get kicked out,” he told Venezuelanalysis on Thursday. “They have been living there for 30 years and suddenly they are treated as if they are squatters? That’s not right.”
Azoaje’s group is organized. They hold meetings in the buildings of people who have received eviction notices, and try to “raise the consciousness of the other renters in the building so that they will support these people.” When FUSI gets word of an eviction attempt they activate their phone lists, and send out the address of the building.
“We go to the building, call VTV (Venezuela state television station), call others, and of course we are peaceful,” said Azoaje. “We stay in the apartment, in the building and tell them that they are not going to evict this person.”
The reform, which passed this week, is one additional tool at their disposition. If a landlord threatens to evict, they can now petition the Metropolitan Caracas Mayor’s office for the apartment to be expropriated and sold to the family. Although this legal measure was available before, Tuesday’s reform increased the number of “expropriable” buildings by more than half. According to El Universal, the list is now at approximately 1200.
Although these buildings are now, by decree, “expropriable,” that does not mean that all the apartments in a building must be expropriated at the same time. According to Azoaje, in most cases, individual tenants are evicted one at a time, and the expropriations are often made per apartment as well.
The threat of expropriation has landlords thinking twice about evicting long-time residents. But according to Azoaje, this has also brought trouble. Once the landlords know that a building is going to be expropriated, they don’t have anything to lose and start to take out the residents. The renters can continue with the courts to try and win the expropriation, but in the mean time they are in the street.
Most landlords find out about the potential for expropriation when the inspectors arrive to inspect the building and analyze the case. Azuaje’s group, FUSI, is now pushing for another reform that would outlaw evictions for 15 days while a building is being studied for expropriation. But that’s just the beginning. FUSI was only formed this past January, and Caracas renters only began to organize themselves out of the Urban Land Committees (CTU) last November.
“We are just beginning,” said Azuaje enthusiastically “We are going to continue to struggle for housing. It’s not a game. Housing is part of life. Without housing, there is no life. When you have your own roof, you know that no one is going to take you out of your home… We don’t want to take anything from anything and we just want a fair price.”