A total of 130 square meters in the Almagro neighborhood, one of the most expensive areas in Madrid. For many, a home here would be nothing short of a dream. But Rafael de la Concepción’s experience has been more like a nightmare. A 68-year-old artist, he explains how the other tenants have left the building’s apartments one by one, leaving him alone in the block.
The scenario when he moved here in 1983 was very different. His signed a contract that set the rent at 33,000 pesetas (€198), with the aim of using the space exclusively as a studio for his painting and designs. Shortly afterwards, however, he separated from his wife and turned the apartment into his home. “At that time all the apartments were occupied,” he says. “The administrators lived on the second floor and were the last to leave.”
The exodus took place in the 1990s. Since then Rafael has had to grow used to being the sole tenant, though a rarely glimpsed concierge supposedly moved in for a couple of years and now there are similarly ethereal tenants in an apartment on the second floor after squatters tried to enter. Though Rafael is not convinced of these people’s existence, one thing he is sure about is that he has become a nuisance to the current owners of the building.
The artist’s rent should still be under the old rent control system, whereby landlords have to charge a fixed rate, which in his case was the equivalent of €198. That system, however, appears to have broken down. Indiscriminate rent hikes have allegedly been one of the ways the children of the original owner have tried to encourage Rafael to move along so that they can charge new tenants the going rate.
“They were putting the rent up by more than they should have until I sought the help of a friend who is a lawyer and he deals with it for me,” says the artist, who is determined to stand his ground even as the building itself looks to be not light years away from falling down around his ears.
Watch the video above to see what life is like for Rafael in the deserted building, which is in dire need of refurbishment.
English version by Heather Galloway.