Strasbourg lawsuit may speed up rent deregulation


All governments in the Czech Republic since the fall of communism have been cautious over reforming the country's system of state controlled rents, afraid of the impact on the less well-off. Landlords on the other hand, have been increasingly vociferous in their complaints that the low rents collected from their tenants cannot cover maintenance costs. Now a lawsuit that Czech landlords are planning to file with The European Court of Human Rights may speed up the process of rent deregulation.

Last week, The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Poland had violated the human rights of Polish property owners by restricting rent increases. Czech landlords are now planning to file a similar lawsuit with the Strasbourg court. Their representative is an Italian living in Prague Girolamo Giormani.

"We are nearly ready; it is a question of a few days. I hope that in one week I will present to the Czech press our complaints to the Court. We are very confident that this time we will beat them definitely."

The Czech authorities don't seem to be worried too much at the prospect. Ivan Prikryl is the Deputy Minister for Local Development.

"We shouldn't forget that the Strasbourg court had discussed the Polish case for ten years. Even though there is a precedent now, the court will have to study the situation in the Czech Republic and also our draft bill which will be discussed in government soon. We are now analysing the Strasbourg verdict and checking if our proposal complies with it and the ruling of the Czech Constitutional Court."

Five years ago the Constitutional Court ruled that rent control in its current form was unconstitutional. Since then as far as rents are concerned the country has been in a legal limbo. Girolamo Giormani.

"In 2000, the Constitutional Court decided that the law on tenants is practically illegal. It has been five years and the Czech authorities, from the President to the deputies, practically don't respect the top court in this country. They don't care about us. They think that we are some social institution. We have to maintain even rich people - for example the Governor of the Czech National Bank is a sit-in tenant, believe it or not. The authorities supposed to give us a hand, they try to make us shut up. We have to fight and we will succeed."

Before the verdict at Strasbourg is passed, the Czech Republic's rent control system will most probably be reformed. For a start, the current centre-left government is planning to gradually increase state-controlled rent in relation to the market price of the property. Deputy Minister for Local Development Ivan Prikryl.

"In the end controlled rents should be high enough to cover maintenance costs for the property owners - be it a person, or the local council - but also acceptable enough for the tenants so that they won't end up under the bridge."