Illegal dwellings on rail authority land may lead to evictions

Houses built on EVR-owned land in Vorbuse, near Tartu.
Houses built on EVR-owned land in Vorbuse, near Tartu. Source: Madis Hindre/ERR

People living, or even having summer houses, on land owned by the Estonian rail authority need to be aware that their situation may not be legal, it is reported.

One concrete example of this is at Vorbuse, just outside Tartu city, in the Tähtvere rural municipality, where plans to straighten the railway route there will result in people having to find a new place to live.

Nearly 20 years ago, one Andres, who had just finished military service, moved to his mother's property, close by the railway at Vorbuse. Fast forward to the present and Andres' house has all the mod cons, with his child playing happily in the yard. However, he is likely to need to find new accommodation by 2021, according to some sources.

EVR unequivocal

For its part, Eesti Raudtee (EVR) which owns and controls most of Estonia's railway network, has been quite forthright about the residents of affected properties.

''From a legal perspective, these people are currently inhabiting EVR land illegitimately and are likely to hold up our planned works,'' EVR construction chief Riho Vjatkin told ERR.

EVR's plans in the area include reducing curves in the line in order to increase train speeds, plus building a railway bridge. The work is likely to see new rails cutting through about 20 yards and gardens, which have been put to varied uses, from simple allotments with a greenhouse, to summer cottages, to full-time residences such as in Andres case.

''It's my understanding that about seven people live in properties on the route of the planned railway,'' said Andres, although there are more, largely unaffected, properties in the vicinity.

Houses built following post-independence land reform

''There are the two people living with me, one next door and another two next door to that, and some more beyond,'' Andres continued.

Another local resident, Valter Jakovski, who lives further from the tracks, said that summers would likely be a but livelier with the railway coming nearer, enabling people to get a good view of ''carrots'' while they barbecue (German-made Stadler FLIRT electric and diesel trains which have run between Tallinn and Tartu since Elron came into existence in 2014, are nicknamed ''carrots'', due to their bright orange colour).

''So far as I know the whole thing started when land was granted to rail workers to grow vegetables,'' said Mr Jakovski.

''Then houses were built around or on top of the summer cottages [under Soviet planning regulations the size and dimensions of summer houses was very exact; independence and ownership reform brought relaxations in the rules and many extensions to older cottages, or complete new builds, can be seen in the countryside immediately surrounding towns and cities in Estonia-ed.],'' he continued.

Affects other parts of Estonia

''Now we can read in the papers that summer houses are for sale in Vorbuse,'' he said.

Whilst the land was indeed offered to people by the rail authorities of the time, no official permission for the building of houses was granted, it is reported.

''No building permission has been either granted or applied for,'' said former Tähtvere rural municipality elder Rein Kokk.

''in the meantime the only controversy surrounded the building of access roads when ownership reform came about,'' he continued, stating that access roads built came as the result of agreement between owners rather than planned projects.

Other, similar rail-side settlements of questionable legal, or downright illegal, status can reportedly be found at Nõo, Tartu County, and Raasik, Harju County, with larger farmsteads in existence in some parts of South Estonia, totalling around 150 sites, though with no immediate plans on what to do with them, according to Riho Vjatkin.

''We know they are there illegally, which is perhaps all we can say about them at this time,'' said Mr Vjatkin.

What will happen to Andres and his neighbours is not yet clear. He is holding out hopes for some sort of compensation for the house, based on the fact it has paperwork attached to it. However, Rein Vjatkin says there is no basis for this compensation.

Tartu city social services department chief Merle Liivak says that whilst she and her department are aware of EVR's plans though the status of the affected residents is not clear, since they do not officially appear on any registers.

Whilst officials are planning to visit the site to get a clearer picture of the situation there, Ms Liivak recommends those in need of support or advice get in touch with the Tartu city government as soon as possible.

Elron's Tallinn-Pärnu service ended in December 2018. The reason given was that with Rail Baltica due to open around eight years from now, upgrading that particular route would be superfluous to requirements.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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