A group is dedicated to renting the typical flats of around one hundred square meters in Dreta de l’Eixample to turn them into clandestine boarding houses, to fill them with double beds, to divide them into a lot of rooms with walls of pladur and then rent them to tourists by the day and illegally through advertisements on digital platforms. The masterminds of this plot deceive the owners of the houses by pretending to be expats, using false documentation, presenting themselves as ideal tenants. In addition, they have people in charge of receiving guests, with others who take care of cleaning and even with a handyman who goes from one floor to the other on an electric scooter to take care of maintenance.

The mafias of clandestine pensions want to pretend that they work like any tourist accommodation manager. But Barcelona City Council inspectors are already tracking the organization. Whatever happens, they are very sneaky. These multi-offenders upload bait ads on digital platforms in order to hide their steps. Neighborhood collaboration is essential for administrations to tighten the noose on them. For now, municipal inspectors are investigating the relationship of the plot with up to seventeen flats in the city, all leased in a rather suspicious way with the same name. “This group is dedicated to renting flats to bona fide owners – say City Council sources – they operate in an organized manner and provide false documentation”.

An owner who lives far from Barcelona explains that at the end of the year she rented the house of around 100 square meters on the block of Carrer Roger de Llúria, which is just above Avinguda Diagonal, to whom it looked like a Russian executive newly promoted who had moved to Catalonia, a charming man with the most convincing references, exquisite manners and a juicy salary. But soon after, the porter phoned the landlady very worriedly to inform her that some very strange people were going upstairs with half a dozen double mattresses and a few plaster walls.

“Then the tourists arrived – the owner continues -. And our tenant wasn’t paying attention to us… So we started researching, found the ad on Booking and booked a night. The ad they posted says the flat is in the building right next to ours, but we recognized our flat from the photos posted. What they do is stay with the guests in front of the building next door, on the street, and then take them to ours. The person we sent also found that they had put locks on the bedrooms and that they had split the living room with plasterboard into a couple of rooms. They set up a pension. The guests share the two bathrooms”. He thus started a strange relationship with the tenant, who, although he does not respond to any of the landlady’s accusations, pays the rent on time and attends to any issue specific to a lease. He does not want to be evicted in any way.

“We sent him a burofax to inform him of the termination of the tourist sublease contract – adds the owner – but he did not respond. And then we took the appropriate legal actions to get the flat back. But since he pays the rent on time, our lawyer has already told me that the matter can take a long time, maybe a year. We estimate that in the meantime these people get around 90 euros a day from each room. It’s big business. And we called Booking fifteen times, to get them to remove the ad, but the process is confusing and frustrating. There is no way they will pay attention to you. We also called the company our tenant was supposed to work for, and they told us they had just fired him. Wasn’t he supposed to have been promoted and assigned to Catalonia? We also saw that the company in question at least did not have an email address. I felt very naive, so to speak.”

The president of the community of neighbors of the estate explains that, fortunately, this clandestine boarding house is mainly occupied by couples, that since the rooms are rented separately, groups of friends willing to spend a few days do not tend to come party in the city “In fact, the traffic of guests on the landings, the stairs and the elevator is continuous, and on top of that they get confused by the intercom every two out of three, and this, apart from inconvenience, causes a lot of anxiety. No one likes this coming and going of strangers. Also, the elevators are old and remain open. The truth is that all this caught us off guard. At first we didn’t know what to do. But we already explained to the City Council what is happening. We hope they take action very soon. In fact, these people are super organized. They are professionals. Not long ago, the porter realized that they had also rented a flat in the building next door, but not where they put the ads, but the one on the other side”.

And the president of the community of residents of this other bordering estate explains that the clandestine boarding house they set up there has been in operation more or less since Easter. “It looked like a foreign couple with a small child would come to live, but immediately they brought a lot of double beds and plasterboard walls. From three bedrooms and a living room, they made five outbuildings. They also rent them through an ad with another nearby address. That’s how they hide. Once, a guest let a neighbor through… they’ve even put numbers on the doors! We will change the lock on the portal, to annoy them a little. Airbnb was very nice and so we told them what was going on they took down the ad they had. We’ve also put some signs in English on the portal, so that guests can post bad reviews on the networks… There’s no doubt that they’re from the building next door. The same cleaners and those in charge of receiving the guests come. Some of them told us half-crying that they have no papers, that most of them live together in a flat on the outskirts, that they have no other choice… But the ones they send have a very bad character. We have discussed it once. And the handle is also the same, that of the scooter! And you can see that they want to take more flats. The other day one of our estates became free, another of about a hundred square meters, and our doorman recognized the Russian among those who came to see him. How many flats does one rent on the same island?”.

Municipal sources insist that City Council inspectors are already on the trail of the plot. “The identification and location of these flats is usually very complex – say Council sources – because this kind of professional offender uses techniques to avoid being identified on marketing platforms. The collaboration of the neighbors, as happened in this case, is key. We are investigating seventeen rented flats with the same name and their relationship with nine advertisements on the platforms”. The City Council has already started the corresponding administrative procedures in one of the estates, where the alleged expats settled for Easter. In fact, earlier, the inspectors were investigating the building of the bait advertisement and this delayed the matter. “Now, following the information from the neighbors, we are investigating the two properties in question. We also ask Booking to deactivate all the ads in this plot once and for all.”