Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Riina Sikkut (SDE) says she does not share MEP Yana Toom's (Center) concerns over Russian citizens who are unable access their real estate in Estonia due to visa restrictions, a situation which could result in large debts to apartment associations. According to Sikkut, such apartment associations have the right to apply a forced sale to the debtor's apartment
Sikkut was responding to a letter from Toom in which the latter expressed concerns that it would not be possible for citizens of the Russian Federation to manage their real estate in Estonia following restrictions on issuing visas.
According to the Interior Ministry, the restrictions affect 41,351 owners of property in Estonia, who are also citizens of the Russian Federation.
Sikkut said that in the current security situation, the free access of citizens of an aggressor country to those properties, which are, for instance, in the immediate vicinity of critical infrastructure or near to the state border, presents a heightened risk.
Sikkut said: "After consulting with the Ministry of the Interior, we took the line that this is not a new problem in terms of real estate management, while the same issues had been occurring before Russia's full-scale war in Ukraine began."
"If a citizen of the Russian Federation wants to maintain a local property, the most reasonable thing for them to do is to sign a real estate management contract with a person in Estonia, or to let out the property," Sikkut noted.
The minister added that, particularly in Ida-Viru County, which borders with the Russian Federation, there is a widespread problem of empty apartments whose owners (Russian citizens - ed.) are not interested in managing their real estate and/or it is not possible for apartment associations to get in touch with them with regard to communal bills.
Sikkut said: "Based on Estonian legal precedent, an apartment association has the right to apply a forced sale to a debtor's apartment. It is also possible to initiate the expropriation of the apartment, whose legal process has been analyzed under the management of the Ministry of Finance's state property department. The latter solution is especially important if an existing, partly empty apartment building is earmarked for demolition and its residents for relocation, because until now, maintaining that apartment building had turned out to be unreasonable."
In summing-up, according to Sikkut, notwithstanding the light of the restrictions in force today in relation to the war in Ukraine, it is not foreseeable that the livelihood of Estonian housing associations will significantly deteriorate or that their debt burden will increase.
In her communique, Toom found that visa ban exemptions applied only to those Russian citizens who come to Estonia to visit an Estonian citizen living in Estonia or a close relative, non-Estonian citizen resident here and who has a long-term residence permit (for example a daughter, son, mother, father), Russian diplomats and their family members working in Estonia, international trade and employees related to passenger transport, persons who can move on the basis of EU law and those to whom Estonia considers issuing a visa justified on humane grounds.
"As you can see, there are no people on this list who would own real estate in Estonia. In connection with this, several Russian people and groups of Russian citizens have already approached me and my Estonian office, who are seriously worried. Since the Schengen visa issued by Estonia is no longer valid for entry into Estonia, people cannot understand how they should now pay utility bills (and again, due to sanctions, it is not possible to transfer money from Russia) and manage their real estate in general. The consequence is that apartment associations and other real estate objects, especially in Ida-Viru County, will also find themselves in a difficult situation, increasing their debt burden constantly," Toom wrote.
Editor: Andrew Whyte