(MENAFN - AFP) With the bailiffs circling, Manuel Ortiz isn't sitting at home waiting to be evicted. He and his companions have set up camp outside the bank that they say swindled them with easy mortgages.
Among sleeping bags and hand-painted signs tied to the building's railings, small groups of protestors sit in shifts outside a branch of Caja Madrid, part of the Bankia group bailed out by the Spanish state.
The camp, which started on Monday, draws attention to what the protestors say was predatory lending by banks that fuelled the financial crisis which has thrown millions into poverty.
"If Bankia is ours, then so are its houses," reads one sign -- echoing a common complaint against the bank that has been promised 24.5 billion euros (32 billion) in public funds to save it from its own bad loans.
Ortiz bought his apartment in 2004 during the decade-long construction boom that drove fierce growth in Spain before it came crashing down four years later.
Five years into his mortgage, he found himself unemployed -- as one in four Spanish workers now are -- but liquidating his property was not enough to free him of the debt.
Spanish law allows the bank to claim the full value of the loan on a property whose price has fallen, even after kicking out the mortgage-holder.
"They auctioned off my apartment. I've been left with 80,000 euros in debt even though I have no job and no house," Ortiz, a father of two, told AFP. "It's a swindle if you ask me."
Now that his house has been reclaimed, all that remains is for him to be formally evicted -- though he has not yet been told when that will happen.
Associations representing Spanish borrowers say many were misled by agents and banks which sorted out quick and cheap loans whose variable interest rates had a sting in the tail.
Elizabeth Quishpe Logacho, an Ecuadorian immigrant, said she got a mortgage from Caja Madrid in 2007 to buy the apartment where she lived with her husband and two young children.
"They gave me the loan in two weeks. Later we learned that the estate agent had made up a false work contract for me, to be sure of getting the loan", she said.
Soon her husband lost his job as a builder, her mother got leukaemia and the interest rates on the mortgage rose from 1,300 to 1,800 euros a month.
Handing over the apartment to the bank, she was left penniless and homeless, with 125,000 euros of debt. She now lives with friends.
"The social services told me they could take my children away if I resisted eviction," she said.
An association fighting to protect ruined homeowners from eviction, PAH, demands that the law be changed to allow borrowers to write off their debt by surrendering their homes.
The PAH has collected about half a million signatures on a petition for such a change to the law as well as an end to evictions and more affordable social housing, said one of its spokeswomen, Tatyana Roeva.
In March the government set new guidelines for banks encouraging them to allow poor homeowners to settle their debts this way and protect families from eviction, but the PAH says few banks are following the voluntary code.
"It is a total lie," said Roeva. "They are continuing to evict people and not offering a solution."
On Wednesday a group of top magistrates released a report denouncing the trend of forced evictions, which they said have risen by a fifth this year and numbered 350,000 between 2008 and 2011.
They complained of "extremely aggressive judicial procedures against debtors" who "find themselves defenceless in a crisis that they did not cause".
"This is going to lead to a social outburst," warned Roeva of the PAH, which organises peaceful blockades on homeowners' doorsteps, often disrupting or postponing their evictions.
Ortiz has not been evicted yet, but demonstrating outside Caja Madrid he is already, in a different sense, in the street -- along with another 50 people taking it in turns to man the mini protest camp.
"We will stay here until Bankia offers us a solution," he said.