Czech landlord leases property on Monday, evicts tenants on Friday
Oldřich Roztočil, the owner of the buildings in the ghetto on Přednádraží Street in Ostrava, has called on those occupying the last remaining building there, number 8, to move out by 17:00 today. Roztočil said that if the people do not leave he is prepared to turn to the police and request their assistance in removing people from the premises.
Just after 17:00 people were still in the building, but the scene was quiet. Police turned up but did not intervene.
The Czech Press Agency reports that one patrol of state police and one of municipal officers came to the scene in response to a call. However, they merely monitored the situation and left after five minutes. Shortly thereafter, the news crews of two television stations, the radio and other media representatives also left the scene.
Roztočil told the Czech Press Agency today that he cannot reach agreement with the Building Works Authority to re-register the building as a residential instead of as a non-residential property. On Monday he signed new leases with the tenants. Because the building is not registered as residential, the people face the dilemma of not qualifying for housing benefits even though they have new rental contracts.
"Today I visited the Building Works Authority in good will. During this first phase I wanted to resolve the matters around why these buildings are registered as non-residential, and to change that,” Roztočil said. He went on to say that the authorities require complete documentation about the occupied building which is not available to him and which would cost several thousand crowns to put together. However, Roztočil believes the Building Works Authority should already have what they need on file.
"We insist that this is the owner’s responsibility. If he doesn’t have the necessary documentation, he should put it together,” Jana Pondělíčková, spokesperson for the municipal department of Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz, told the Czech Press Agency.
"They are refusing to discuss the question of whether the Building Works Authority does or does not have that information,” said Roztočil. He said the Building Works Authority is insisting that a previous instruction to evacuate the buildings still applies, while he believes it does not.
The Building Works Authority has also instructed Roztočil to repair the sewer hookup. Pondělíčková says the 90-day deadline by which to complete the repairs has been running since mid-April. If he doesn’t fix it, he will be fined as much as CZK 200 000.
"They have changed their previous statement that the sewer serves a public need to say that the sewer hookup belongs to the buildings and is therefore mine. Everything is absolutely upside-down, I just don’t have the money for such repairs anymore,” Roztočil said.
The landlord said that if something were to happen to somebody on the property, he would be criminally liable for it. "I am terribly sorry for those people, I know this is not their fault, but unfortunately, they have to leave,” Roztočil said. He believes he has no other choice at this moment. "If we want to consider that what the town is saying might still apply, then those leases are invalid.”
Ostrava Police spokesperson Gabriela Holčáková told the Czech Press Agency that if the landlord turns to the police it will first be necessary to determine the actual state of affairs. "We will act in accordance with the law,” she said, refusing to comment further.
Vishwanathan: People are disappointed and in shock
Kumar Vishwanathan, who is helping people at the scene, told the Czech Press Agency today that they are in shock and are greatly disappointed. “I must meet with Mr Roztočil. I think he is very disappointed after his meeting with the Building Works Authority. In my opinion he has been forced to turn to the police, I believe he is not glad to do it. We hoped that the situation of the families could be somehow legalized on the basis of the Regional Court decision to cancel the fine levied against him for not evacuating people before,” said Vishwanathan.
The activist added that the only route to take now is to ask the court to review the Building Works Authority’s decision of last August to evacuate the people. "We still believe that building number 8 is not so hazardous that people should have to move out,” Vishwanathan said. He believes about 35 people are living there now.
There are 14 apartments in the building and the owner says 11 are occupied. Roztočil is insisting that should the people be evacuated, the municipal department is obliged to provide them accommodation or shelter.
"On the contrary, the moment the landlord signed new leases with them, he as owner of the building is responsible for ensuring people substitute shelter for the duration of their rental contract,” Pondělíčková said. Roztočil signed the contracts with the tenants for two months.
Timeline of the main events in the case of the Přednádraží ghetto:
Summer 2012 – The Building Works Authority in Ostrava starts inspecting the technical state of 10 apartment buildings in the ghetto on Přednádraží Street in Ostrava-Přívoz. The buildings in which around 200 people, most of them Romani, were living at the time, belong to the Domy Přednádraží firm of businessman Oldřich Roztočil. He had purchased the properties in 2010 and wanted to gradually repair them. However, he determined that repairs could not be performed because of a broken sewer line. He then began a dispute with the town over who owns the sewer line and should therefore cover the cost of repairs. Water supplies were cut off to the buildings on 27 July for non-payment of invoices.
3 August 2012
- The Building Works Authority announces to the occupants of the buildings affected that they have one day to move out because the buildings are in such poor shape that the bureaucrats believe the residents’ health and lives are at risk. The tenants refuse to move out.
- Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková charges the town of Ostrava with waiting far too long to resolve the situation. A spokesperson for the town hall rejects her allegations.
8 August 2012
- The Building Works Authority files a request with the court to perform the execution of the evacuation of the buildings. The bureaucrats offer the ghetto residents accommodation in residential hotels. The residents reject the offer.
- Commissioner Šimůnková visits Přednádraží.
10 August 2012
- The Building Works Authority instructs Roztočil to immediately demolish building number 19 because it is in danger of collapse. Roztočil appeals the decision.
- The Statewide Association of Romani People of the Czech Republic (Celostátní asociace Romů ČR) asks the government to get involved in the issue of housing for people at risk of social exclusion.
17 August 2012 – The Building Works Authority calls on Roztočil to repair six buildings on Přednádraží Street within 60 days.
21 August 2012 – Councilors of the municipal department of Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz call on the occupants of Přednádraží street to leave their homes.
22 August 2012 – Roztočil is fined CZK 30 000 for not respecting the authority’s decision to evacuate the residents.
24 August 2012 – Water supplies to Přednádraží street are partially renewed after the owner pays the debt for building number 8, which draws water independently.
29 August 2012 – Ostrava files against the state in District Court for a declaratory judgment. The town wants the court to decide whether the owner of the broken sewer line is Czech Railways, the municipality, or Roztočil.
30 August 2012 – The Building Works Authority calls on Roztočil to submit documentation about the buildings on Přednádraží Street. Not all of the buildings are registered as residential.
1 October 2012 – The SOS Přednádraží challenge is published online asking politicians to get involved in the situation and advocate for it to be resolved in an acceptable, dignified way.
10 October 2012 – Technical Services workers tape over the entrances to the dilapidated buildings and post signs banning entry into them. There are 45 people including children still living in the buildings.
26 April 2013 – News server Novinky.cz reports that the Regional Court in Ostrava has ruled that the Building Works Authority’s instruction to Roztočil’s firm to evacuate the tenants was not authorized. The firm therefore does not have to pay a fine of CZK 30 000.
29 April 2013 – The occupants of building number 8 sign new leases with Roztočil.
3 May 2013 – Roztočil calls on the occupants of building number 8 to move out by that afternoon. He says he cannot reach agreement with the Building Works Authority to re-register the building as a residence.
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