Czech landlords celebrate Strasbourg verdict on Polish rent control

Czech landlords are celebrating Monday's verdict at the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Poland's system of rent control violated the rights of Polish property owner Maria Hutten-Czapska. The Court ordered the Polish state to pay her 50,000 euros in compensation, after agreeing that the state-controlled rent in her property was so low she couldn't afford to maintain the building. Czech property owners have themselves filed some 3,000 complaints with the Court, in a legal campaign co-ordinated by the Prague-based Movement for the Defence of House Owners. Italian property owner Girolamo Giormani is the group's chairman.

"We were present in court in Strasbourg yesterday, and for us it was really fantastic news. Because it applies to us as well. The court decided to call this decision a pilot decision, and that means we're talking about the Czech Republic."

It does not automatically apply to the Czech Republic does it? You will still have to go to the Court in Strasbourg yourself.

"Exactly. But the main judge of the Court pointed out many times, three or four times, that this was the pilot - it means precedent - decision of all 17 judges. When they're talking about the Czech Republic, the decision has to be practically the same, because we are in a worse situation than Polish citizens."

Photo: Archive of Radio Prague
Tell us about that situation. What is the problem for property owners in the Czech Republic?

"Well, we have rent control by the state, from the time of the Communist regime. Can you imagine in England, in Central London, paying something like 10p per square metre? It's something absolutely, absolutely ridiculous. It's practically the continuation of Communist law."

But do you want the right to charge as much as you see fit?

"Well, we are private owners. We want our rights, which are normal throughout the world. If I am a private owner, I have the right to ask. The main problem is that our houses are under the protection of sometimes very, very rich people - politicians, managers of banks, and they pay ridiculous amounts and this discriminates against young families."

Right, but most of the tenants in rent-controlled flats are not bank managers are they? They're ordinary working people with very little income.

"Not many. Not many. In central Prague, which is really the main problem, there are really a lot of MPs, senators, bankers, and actors etc. And they're living in big flats, over 100 square metres, and paying something like 50 pounds per month!"

Do you not accept though Mr Giormani that the right to housing is a fundamental human right, not simply an opportunity to make money?

"Many people forget that living in a luxury is not a human right. OK? It's like a law that says bread has to cost two crowns for example. Nobody regulates food. Nobody."