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Spanish banks stop evictions for the next 2 years in cases of 'extreme necessity'

By Al Goodman, CNN
November 12, 2012 -- Updated 1339 GMT (2139 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The main industry group for Spanish banks announces a moratorium on some evictions
  • The pledge follows two suicides of homeowners about to be evicted
  • People have been protesting evictions during the recession as unemployment hit 25%
  • The banking association says 97% of homeowners are paying their mortgages on time

Madrid (CNN) -- Spaniards who are in "circumstances of extreme necessity" and are unable to pay their mortgages will not be evicted from their homes over the next two years, the main industry group for Spanish banks said Monday.

The pledge comes just three days after a 53-year-old woman committed suicide as authorities were preparing to foreclose on her home. It was the second such incident since late October.

The move will not halt all home evictions during the ongoing economic crisis, but the Spanish Banking Association issued a statement saying that "due to social alarm generated by the home evictions," it agreed with a government proposal made last Thursday to halt foreclosures "during the next two years, in those cases where there are circumstances of extreme necessity."

In the incident last Friday, the woman jumped to her death from her home in northern Spain as authorities were climbing the steps to evict her.

The victim was a former Socialist town councilor. Her death followed the suicide last October 25 by a 53-year-old man who hanged himself at a home in southern Spain shortly before the eviction team -- judicial and bank representatives, backed by police -- showed up.

There have been protests for months in Spain over evictions as the nation suffers a recession and an unemployment rate just over 25 percent. But the two suicides sharply increased pressure on Spanish authorities to take action.

Spain's central judicial authority has reported than 150,000 evictions of Spaniards and immigrants from their homes since 2008, when the crisis started, for falling behind on their mortgage payments. Spain's El Pais newspaper reports the figure could be closer to 400,000.

On Monday, a spokesman for the deputy prime minister told CNN it was not immediately clear how many evictions would be stopped under the banking industry's standard of "circumstances of extreme necessity" but he said it could be "some thousands."

Housing advocates say hundreds of evictions are scheduled every business day. The banking association says 97% of homeowners are still paying their mortgages on time.

Just hours after the second suicide last Friday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a regional election rally that the government "will protect the most vulnerable families affected by evictions."

Leading judges -- the judiciary is charged with carrying out the evictions -- have in recent days called on lawmakers to urgently address the problem. And a main police union, known by its letters SUP, offered to pay legal fees and lost wages for officers who decline to participate in evictions.

The conservative government and the main opposition Socialist Party -- after months of being unable to agree on almost anything -- have suddenly pledged to work together to ease the foreclosures.

A senior Economy Ministry official and his counterpart from the Socialist Party were to meet later Monday to discuss other measures to ease the eviction crisis.

Credit was cheap in Spain during the boom years, when hundreds of thousands of new homes were built and it seemed that everyone could become a homeowner.

The boom went bust in 2008, and banks incurred huge debts from bad real estate loans while the economy slowed, the jobless rate increased, and consumer spending stalled.

There have been widespread protests against the evictions and especially against the Spanish law that lets banks seize not only the property but also go after debtors' future income until everything has been paid back.

At numerous evictions, authorities have been met by dozens of protesters who have organized to provide support for families facing evictions across the country.

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