Pushed for space, a Spanish cemetery has begun placing stickers on thousands of burial sites whose leases are up as a warning to relatives or caretakers to pay up or face possible eviction.
Jose Abadia, deputy urban planning manager for northern Zaragoza city, said Monday the city's Torrero municipal graveyard had removed remains from some 420 crypts in recent months and removed them to a common burial ground.
Torrero, like many Spanish cemeteries, no longer allows people to buy grave sites. It instead leases them out for periods of five or 49 years.
Abadia said the cases involved graves whose leases had not been renewed for 15 years or more. He said Torrero currently had some 7,000 burial sites with lapsed leases out of a total of some 114,000.
He said leases generally lapsed because the relatives or caretakers had died or had moved house and failed to renew the contract. He said in other cases, with the passing of years family descendants sometimes no longer wanted to pay for further leases.
He said the policy was a matter graveyard management and that graveyards were not limitless in space.
"If we keep on building and building spaces for human remains, where are we going to end up?" said Abadia. "It's a problem that is affecting big city cemeteries more and more."
The graveyard began looking for payment defaulters over the past two years. Abadia said the process of trying to notify relatives or caretakers and giving them a chance to decide what to do normally takes up to six months.
"We're not doing it to make money or empty graves but rather to improve management," said Abadia.
The sticker campaign was decided upon to coincide with the Nov. 1 Roman Catholic holiday on which people visit graveyards. Abadia said that since then hundreds of people had called to make inquiries about grave of their relatives.
Nowadays, Spanish cemeteries normally place coffins or cremated ash urns in niches above ground.