Empty Russian-owned apartments cause headache for housing associations
As winter sets in, Estonia's housing associations are concerned about the cost of empty apartments, which were bought by Russian citizens, who are now either unable to maintain them or pay utility bills.
According to Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, many Russian citizens bought cheap apartments in Estonia with the sole purpose of obtaining Schengen visas, and had no intention of dealing with the properties.
Madise has been approached by Russian citizens living in Russia, who, due to the sanctions, are unable to visit Estonia to maintain their apartments themselves, or make bank transfers to cover the costs. The Chancellor of Justice has also been contacted by residents of apartment buildings, who complain that neighboring properties owned by Russian citizens are not being maintained nor management costs are being paid.
Russian and Belarusian citizens own around 42,000 properties in Estonia. However, the majority live in Estonia on the basis of having a residence permit, with approximately one in ten Russian citizens who own Estonian affected by the recently introduced visa ban.
Andres Jaadla (Center), chair of the board of the Estonian Union of Co-operative Housing Associations, said that every empty apartment is a problem. Solving problems stemming from apartments owned by foreign nationals is a job for national institutions," Jaadla said. "This is to be achieved through national and diplomatic channels. As NGOs, our hands are rather tied," he added.
"Undoubtedly, the cooperative has a problem if an owner is unavailable and, for whatever reason, does not pay what is owed. These apartments are mostly in Ida-Viru County, but there are also properties in other parts of Estonia," he explained.
According to Eve East, mayor of Toila and chair of the Ida-Viru County Municipalities Association, there are around a dozen such apartments in Toila. "We are unable to reach (the owners), and housing associations are worried that these apartments do not come without their costs," East said.
According to Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, the issue of covering the costs of empty apartments has been going on for years.
"Kohtla-Järve has already started to look for solutions and there are different reasons for this. Some apartments have simply been abandoned because their market value is low," Madise said.
"Now the problem has really come into focus, and it has come to our attention, that Russian citizens bought cheaper apartments precisely so they could get Schengen visas. In fact, they had no intention of living in these apartments, taking care of them, or heating them," explained Madise.
Madise explained, that residents of neighboring apartments have no means of resolving the issue by themselves. "They cannot take the place of Russian citizens and start repairing the insulation in their apartments, they cannot take over the owner's costs if it is a question of how to prepare the apartment building for the winter, or how to cover the heating bills," she said.
Madise said, that Chancellor of Justice's office has put the issue back on the agenda, but has yet to come up with clear solutions. According to Madise, one option, which has been discussed, is expropriation, however, it is too early to say whether this will be the way chosen to proceed.
"Certainly, the damage and worry must not be left on the shoulders of the people who actually live in these buildings, and whose apartments are now cold and may struggle to face the winter," Madise said.
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Editor: Michael Cole