Czech court fines owner of buildings on Přednádraží street
The District Court in Ostrava has decided that the owner of buildings in the ghetto on Přednádraží street must pay a fine of CZK 30 000 for failing to respect an official instruction to remove all tenants from his properties. The court has not, however, ordered that the residents be evicted. Court spokesperson Alexandr Dadam told the press that "the motion filed with the court by the municipal Building Works Authority did not seek eviction."
Oldřich Roztočil, the owner of the buildings, does not understand why the court has fined him. The court was thought to be ruling on the eviction of the roughly 100 people who are remaining in the ghetto despite having been instructed by the Building Works Authority of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz to move out. The court, however, was unable to decide on whether to evict the people because the motion filed with the court was incomplete. Roztočil has been fined nonetheless.
There are currently 10 buildings in the locality. Authorities want the owner to fix six of them (numbers 8, 10, 12, 13, 15 and 17). Five of those six are still occupied. The authorities have instructed him to demolish building no. 19 and to wall up the doors and windows on no. 11. Numbers 4 and 6 are also significantly dilapidated and no longer occupied. A public discussion was scheduled to take place in the locality today.
"The atmosphere here this morning was very tense," activist Kumar Vishwanathan told news server Romea.cz. Vishwanathan has been actively engaged in assisting local residents from the start of this scandal and was on the scene this morning as people awaited the court verdict. "The mothers of young schoolchildren were very emotional - the school year is about to start and many people don't know where they would go to live if they had to move," Vishwanathan said, adding that "for many of them the residential hotel is not an alternative because the rents are too high."
Town councilors confirmed they would not be participating in today's public meeting in the locality, even though local residents and their sympathizers called on them to attend. The residents want information from the town councilors about their intentions for the locality as a whole. "The municipal department does not own either the buildings or the land there, with the exception of the land beneath a building that has been demolished, and therefore cannot have any intentions regarding its use," municipal spokesperson Pondělíčková said.
Roztočil has been ordered to demolish building no. 19 by Saturday. According to inspectors, the house is in such disrepair that it is at risk of collapse. Roztočil, however, commissioned a second inspection which says the building could be preserved under certain circumstances. Roztočil said he has not had time to read the second inspection report in detail, but its positive conclusions about the property were confirmed by the Nemopas company, which performs real estate inspections and produces expert evaluations of the technical state of buildings for property owners.
Some of the residents who are refusing to leave their dwellings are actively participating in fixing the most acute damage to the buildings. Working together, they are repairing building no. 8, where the cellar was recently in a catastrophic state. "At this moment we have temporarily repaired the roof, which we have at least secured against leaks by using tar paper. We have plastered all of the hallways, and yesterday the local men also went down into the cellar, which has been full of stuff since the 1997 floods. They eventually took everything away that had accumulated down there during the past 15 years, sorted it all, and took it to the garbage containers. At the same time we discovered an old, unattached sump in the cellar, and we are now waiting for the waste management vehicle to take it away," said Vishwanathan. Mr Bandi, a resident of building no. 8, added that "we are also doing the piping into the apartments and installing new, plastic plumbing."
"With respect to stability, which is essential when deciding whether to demolish a structure or not, those buildings have not been irrevocably damaged. They could be fixed, at a high cost, by investing into their immediate reconstruction and security," Nemopas inspector Pavel Štajnrt said. The company will prepare a final evaluation, including a calculation of the costs of both options (demolition and the construction of a new building vs. renovation) by the end of this week.
Roztočil said he intends to take this second opinion to the Building Works Authority to try and agree with them on the next steps. He claimed to have attempted to speak with two firms about demolishing the building, neither of which were reportedly interested in the commission. If Roztočil and the authorities do not reach an agreement, he is prepared to have the dispute resolved by the courts. "However, the situation is unpredictable from a legal point of view. The kind of instructions the authorities issue do not legally delay anything. I will definitely defend myself in the courts, but I don't yet know what kind of lawsuit it will be," Roztočil said.
"Many actors are involved in the problem on Přednádraží street," Vishwanathan opined to us. "Mr Roztočil is one of them. Nevertheless, we see today's verdict as very unfair. At a minimum, the town, primarily, should be held to the same deadlines and obligations as the property owner is."
Human rights activist Jakub Polák sees the situation a bit differently. "Mr Roztočil knew the buildings were in disrepair two years ago when he bought them. If the town is preventing their renovation, then as a businessperson he has the option of repairing the buildings at his own expense and suing the town for the cost of repairs they should have performed. He also could have included the town's performance of those repairs as a condition of purchase. I'm sorry to hear he has been fined, but I don't see his lack of willingness to move the tenants out as philanthropy. It's a business calculation: By now it must now be obvious even to him that if the tenants stop paying, his business is over," Polák said.
Polák criticized the approach taken by both the municipality and local non-governmental organizations as follows: "Since the floods in 1997, Přednádraží street has experienced three hepatitis epidemics, but no one ever addressed the situation until developers started showing an interest in these buildings. Many of the local residents are illiterate or do not understand Czech very well. Non-governmental organizations could have helped resolve this situation long ago, for example, by helping the locals to set up a cooperative to purchase the apartments themselves. That option was on the table in 2004. We ourselves are now preparing to take such a step. We would like to create a new legal entity involving the tenants and any other investors, even if it means a harsh dispute with the town hall, which could, for example, file criminal charges of gross neglect or reckless endangerment."
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