Meet the Lavapiés neighbours facing eviction by a film company

Author: María José Gayón / Photos: Leah Pattem (ver traducción castellana)

Buenavista 25 and Zurita 22 are the addresses of two charming residential buildings in Lavapiés that stand back-to-back on parallel streets. They’re connected by a small patio, where residents of the 10 flats exchange pleasantries while hanging their washing out to dry. However, in mid-march, pleasantries turned to organising when tenants learned that both of their buildings had been bought by film production company Gloriamundi Producciones. The corporation is now actively pressuring tenants to leave, but they have no plans on leaving their memories – not of one year nor a lifetime – behind.

The longest-term tenant, Mari Cruz (77), was born in the building, and her husband, José Luis (81), in the one across the street. They have been living – and working, as José Luis had his jeweller’s workshop there – in Buenavista 25 on and off ever since they got married, over 50 years ago. They talk over and contradict each other with the easy rhythm of two people who have shared most of their lives together as they jump from talking about their rent-controlled apartment and the best clubs in Lavapiés during their youth, to how much the neighbourhood has changed over their lifetimes. 

The connecting patio between the two buildings

The description of a bygone era of leaving your front door open serves to highlight that some of this comradery has been recovered in the past month. Lili (39), who has lived in the building for three years, jumps in with a suggestion of someone she knows who might want to buy some of José Luis’s tools and materials, and she affectionately teases Mari Cruz for wanting to be in the media.

When the topic turns to the constant leasing of streets, squares and flats for media productions and whether the people in Lavapiés would’ve expected better from an artistic company, Lili, herself a flamenco dancer, declares herself unsurprised: “There are lots of companies who profit off of culture, and these big corporations make money off products, not artists.”

Lili’s point is brought into sharper relief by the active support that another cultural institution, El Teatro del Barrio – the building immediately to the left of Buenavista 25 – has lent to other eviction cases in Lavapiés, including that of 52 flats on Calle Tribulete 7, even lending itself as a venue for union meetings.

Teatro del Barrio, which has offered space to its neighbours to have organisational meetings

On the other hand, Gloriamundi Producciones, founded in 2012 by Argentinian producer Pablo Enrique Bossi, states that “building bridges of creative collaboration between different countries and talents” is one of its distinguishing features. Yet the company seems to have no qualms about ending contracts abruptly and stonewalling tenants, effectively burning down bridges in a formerly cordial relationship, as every neighbour speaks respectfully of the previous building owner.

Although all tenants are facing possible eviction, each case in Buenavista is unique. There’s Anita and her husband, who have been living in the building for six years and supporting her two children back home in Bulgaria. “If we could only stay here for one more year, then we’d be fine. We just needed one more year.” 

Calle Buenavista, Lavapiés

Anita received her eviction notice a month ago. She was given no chance to negotiate a contract, even after being reassured in October, back when the building was first sold, that nothing would change other than the bank account she would pay her rent to.

Similarly, Fernando (39), who arrived from Colombia yearning for change and new experiences, had a one-year contract that was meant to last until the end of December, and yet he received notice to vacate in November. 

On Buenavista, a hand-painted sign hangs from the windows of Teatro del Barrio next door

The new rental law states that leasing agreements between private individuals are meant to last for five years; when they are between individuals and legal entities, for seven. Of course, companies engaging in these types of underhanded tactics are counting on the idea that the average person is not well-versed in rental law. But that’s where the prolific union, Sindicato de Inquilinas (Tenants’ Union), comes in. 

The group of activists are collaborating with the neighbours at Buenavista and Zurita, and representative Carol has a natural rapport with them that clearly shows the trust they’ve placed in her and in the union.

Anita outside the building on Buenavista

Carol reminds me that, on top of the people being directly forced out, there have also been countless “invisible evictions”, which refers to all those who would have ordinarily stayed in their apartments, but are pressured into leaving or do so out of fear of harassment from the buyer. As she succinctly puts it, “The problem is that housing is now seen as a commodity rather than a right.”

Gloriamundi seems to have borrowed the same corporate playbook used by so many property management companies, as they have started works in the building that have left many neighbours with considerable structural damage to their apartments. Fernando’s apartment shows several cracks in the living room and bedroom, and the wall has even chipped over the entrance. 

Lili and Anita’s flats have both developed a concerning mould problem as a result of a leak that went on for five days. This was two months ago, and they have been asking for a solution to it ever since.

The staircase of Buenavista with crumbling walls by the entrance

As we step into Lili’s apartment, her cat, Lola, cuddles and purrs at her as she talks about the research she did with a friend and former neighbour when they found out about the building potentially being sold. Her contract is not technically up yet because of the rental law, but she senses it’s only a matter of time before she feels the pressure to leave.

Indeed, in Zurita two neighbours have left since the sale was announced, opting to find alternative housing rather than go through the trials of a fight against the production company, with one former tenant having been scared into leaving by the notice. She received it a month after the building was sold and before the neighbours had had a chance to organise, making it no surprise that she would’ve felt alone and overwhelmed, as Pablo (39) one of the few remaining tenants in the building tells us.

In an already emotionally and materially fraught situation, every factor – whether it be age, financial circumstances, family or employment status – suddenly become chinks in the armor to be exploited, and can determine not just the outcome but even the strain of the process itself. The same degree of involvement may therefore not be expected from elderly tenants or families with children as those younger or with less dependents, which leaves the people in the latter categories taking on the brunt of the stress that comes with resisting. “Everyone wants rights, but nobody wants to fight for them,” says Pablo resignedly.

Pablo chatting with Majo in his living room on the fourth floor

Still, he doesn’t begrudge his downstairs neighbour, a retired woman living off her pension, for whatever peace of mind she can afford to keep. Already, he acknowledges, her position is a lot more complicated than his, as it will be incredibly difficult for her to find an apartment within a similar price range in the neighbourhood, should she be evicted. 

“These people don’t realise that when they buy a building they are indirectly buying the lives of the people living in it. That they’re going to have a fundamental impact on their lives,” says Pablo.

Even if not quite as dire, being evicted would mean Pablo would have to leave the area he has been living in for his entire adult life, not to mention the countless smaller inconveniences – a longer commute, higher rent for a smaller flat – that add up to a huge change that he never asked for, with no possibility to negotiate and very little empathy.

View from Pablo’s living room over the rooftops of Lavapiés

Gloriamundi Producciones has seemingly made no effort to compromise with the neighbours, and quite the opposite: while the Zurita tenants had been paying their share of the water bill for years by dividing it equally between the eight apartments (both vacant and occupied), since the sale of the building, Gloriamundi has been attempting to force the remaining three neighbours into splitting it only among themselves, no longer paying an eighth. 

This conveniently ignores the fact that the cost of access to water – which does not take water use into account and is thus the same amount for every flat, regardless of occupancy – is significantly higher than that of the actual usage. As Pablo showed me in his most recent bill, this effectively more than doubles the cost for them, with water use accounting for €25 of the total, and water access being an outrageous €130 per month, approximately.

Yet, the patio that was always locked is now metaphorically open, with Buenavista and Zurita coming together and refusing to go quietly as a storytelling company seeks to put an end to their 16 individual stories. They understand, as the Sindicato de Inquilinas said, “We have to go on the offensive and not wait for the conflict to come to us. Being a tenant is inherently a conflict because of the uncertainty of not having control over your housing. Many neighbours understand this as a collective fight.”

On 14 April, the neighbourhood of Lavapiés joined tenants for music and performances to protest their eviction:

The neighbours of Calle Tribulete 7 came to show their support

María José Gayón is an independent journalist based in Madrid. She has an MA in Investigative Journalism and has reported for various magazines and news outlets both in Spain and internationally, including BBC Scotland Radio and Times Radio.

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