State to help tear down abandoned apartment buildings in Ida-Viru County

Abandoned house fire in Sompa in 2019.
Abandoned house fire in Sompa in 2019. Source: Rene Kunda/ERR

The Ministry of Finance has drawn up a support measure with it will help local governments in Ida-Viru County start addressing the matter of apartment building that are ending up increasingly vacant ⁠— in other words, paying out compensation to the owners of the empty apartments and demolishing the buildings.

"The goal of the program is Ida-Viru County's economic recovery and increasing the attractiveness of the region's living environment, stemming the drain of younger people as well as reducing the gap in development with other parts of Estonia via priority regional development," the letter of explanation accompanying the regulation states.

According to a forecast by Statistics Estonia, the population of the country's northeasternmost county is slated to shrink by nearly 40,000 over the next couple of decades, which may also mean an increase in the number of unoccupied apartments at the same rate. The Ministry of Finance wants to provide local governments with financial support with which to tackle the issue.

"Together with the state we're contributing, and have also reached a financing decision according to which we'll be allocating €1 million from the Ida-Viru program directly into addressing the problem of the region's increasingly vacant apartment buildings, in order to handle the matter's legal aspects, relocation as well as demolition," Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) told ERR.

Solman nonetheless stressed that not everyone currently living in older apartment buildings in Ida-Viru County have to worry, as the plan only involves abandoned buildings that are in very bad shape and where no one wants to live.

The Ministry of Finance has drawn up a legally competent action plan that local governments can follow step by step as they empty out and tear down qualifying buildings. The state will also pick up the tab for expenses incurred by local governments in connection with ordering expert building assessments, buying out apartments as well as tearing down the buildings themselves.

According to Tarmo Kivi, an adviser at the ministry's Regional Development Department, this is being done to motivate local governments.

"So that local governments would be more motivated to take on this challenging task ⁠— because it isn't easy, which is why it hasn't been undertaken by local governments much to date," Kivi acknowledged. "Local governments actually do want to resolve this issue, but if we can remove that expenses element from the equation to the greatest extent possible for a local government, these processes will certainly go more smoothly."

Some owners need convincing

Agnes Heinmaa, a real estate expert in Ida-Viru County's Lüganuse Municipality, explained to ERR how difficult it can be to tear down abandoned apartment buildings.

There are four such apartment buildings located in her municipality that would qualify for demolition under the ministry's new measure, but even the vacant apartments have owners, the tracking down and convincing of which has cost the local government a significant amount of both time and energy.

"You have to find these people from wherever, then they argue; some will say, 'I'm not giving up the apartment for that kind of money,'" Heinmaa described. "Then we had a case where someone refused the transaction once we were already at the notary's office as the enforcement agent wanted to seize all of that money from them ⁠— and so it starts all over again. Now that we can involve someone in the project management who will help draw up all of the paperwork and all of those municipal government bills and make people offers ⁠— that's going to be a big help."

The support measure for addressing the matter of abandoned apartment buildings in Ida-Viru County is currently out for a round of approvals, but the public administration minister believes the measure may still receive final approval before the year is out.

According to the letter of explanation accompanying the draft resolution, eligible costs involved in the process will include up to €3,000 for the acquisition of a single apartment unit, €10,000 for the acquisition of a replacement apartment and up to €25 per square meter of closed net area for the demolition of an abandoned apartment building.

The letter of explanation acknowledges that it is difficult to gauge how many buildings can ultimately be demolished for the €1 million earmarked for the first round of the support measure, as expenses will vary depending on the number of apartment units per building as well as how many people will need to be bought a replacement apartment.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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