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June 22, 2018
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Czech Police say their hands are tied as Romani tenant and her children are unlawfully made homeless by Prague landlord trafficking in poverty

15.7.2017 11:15
A building in Prague's Vysočany quarter owned by the A Property company, 2017. (PHOTO:  Romea.cz Archive)
A building in Prague's Vysočany quarter owned by the A Property company, 2017. (PHOTO: Romea.cz Archive)

Despite having a lease, paying her rent, and owing no debts of any kind to her landlord, Ms Holubová, a Romani woman living in Prague, is unable to occupy an apartment together with her three little children without ending up on the street from one day to the next. Her landlord, the A Property company, the CEO of which is Ondřej Opletal, has recently made her homeless.

No written eviction notice was ever delivered to Ms Holubová, which is a violation of the Civil Code. She was forced to leave her home together with her children from one day to the next without being provided the legally required three-month notice period.

The company is also refusing to return her deposit of CZK 14 500 [EUR 560]. The building in the Vysočany quarter where she has been renting a unit since April was originally run by the company as a residential hotel, and after its reconstruction was completed, Opletal and A Property began offering classic leases on its units. 

At the end of June, Opletal's brother announced to Ms Holubová that she had to move out by Saturday 1 July. The brother justified his orders by saying he had "heard" that Holubová's five-year-old son had drawn on a wall with crayons and that some of her children had broken a window.

"It was raining terribly on that day. Despite that, he just threw me and my three children onto the street in the clothes we had on us at the moment."

While he has no evidence supporting those allegations and says he did not personally witness either situation, he nevertheless insisted that she move out by the day stipulated. Ms Holubová turned to news server Romea.cz for aid in this desperate situation.

When Mr Opletal learned she had contacted the media, he instructed her to move out by 30 June. "I absolutely reject Mr Opletal's allegations," the evicted woman told Romea.cz.

"Those scrawls on the wall were at a height my son could never have reached. For the broken window, Mr Opletal does not have a single piece of evidence that my children did it,". she said.

"There is more than one family with children in the building. I even offered to pay for a new window if he would just let us stay in the apartment," the mother of three continued.

"He threw us out even though I still have a valid rental contract for the unit. I called the police, but they did not intervene at all, and I had to give Mr Opletal the keys to the apartment," she described to news server Romea.cz.

"It was raining terribly on that day. Despite that, he just threw me and my three children onto the street in the clothes we had on us at the moment," she described the day in question.

"The rest of our things, all of our clothes, he has 'allowed' me to leave in the cellar, near the hot water heaters. I don't even have anywhere to take it all," the evicted woman told Romea.cz.

The company had still not delivered a written notice of eviction to their tenant as of 13 July. A written notice has been promised to her at least twice in the presence of police officers.

Mr Opletal is said to have made that first promise on the very day he threw Ms Holubová onto the street with her children as the police watched. The next week she returned to the building to retrieve her things, and the police were called a second time.

At that very moment, Mr Opletal was throwing yet another family out of their rental unit under similar circumstances. When Ms Holubová asked, in the presence of two staffers of news server Romea.cz and the police officers, whether Mr Opletal would finally at least given her a written eviction notice, since he was refusing her access to the unit even though her contract was still valid, he once again just promised to do so by the end of the week, i.e., by 7 July.

As of 13 July no eviction notice had been delivered. The police officers called to the scene said they could do nothing more and gave the explanation that the dispute falls under the Civil Code, which means the occupants of the building must sue in court if they want to achieve justice.

Lease violates Civil Code, social housing expert claims

News server Romea.cz asked the chair of the Platform for Social Housing, Štěpán Ripka, for a statement as to whether the lease that Ms Holubová concluded with the CEO of A Property corresponds to the Civil Code. "The rental contract violates the Civil Code in more than one place," he said.

"The rental contract violates the Civil Code in more than one place."

"For example, the notice period that a property owner is supposed to provide to tenants being evicted is three months. In this rental contract the A Property company states that it is just one month," Ripka said.

"A lease can be terminated without notice only if an especially serious violation of contractual obligations has been committed by the tenant. That can be, for example, the fact that the tenant has not paid rent for three or more months, which is not Ms Holubová's case," Ripka told news server Romea.cz.

"Moreover, a property owner leasing an apartment must adhere to the Civil Code irrespective of what is written in the text of any particular rental contract," Ripka clarified to Romea.cz. While suing is indeed a way to protect one's rights, the current situation for Ms Holubová and her three children will not be resolved by a lawsuit in the near term.

"The children and I must now live in emergency shelters or pay for an overpriced residential hotel even though I have no debts, I have done nothing wrong, and I should have, according to the law, the opportunity to remain with my children in that apartment for at least three more months. I am seeking another rental now, but all my negotiations end once the property owner learns I am a Romani woman with three children," Holubová explains.

The A Property company is also currently refusing to return Ms Holubová her deposit. The company alleges that after calculating what will be deducted from the deposit, what remains will be returned to the Labor Office, which provided the money to Ms Holubová as a one-time payment.

However, a staffer for the Prague 7 Labor Office, where Ms Holubová was registered prior to changing her permanent address to the apartment in Prague 9, told Romea.cz that the deposit money had been awarded to Ms Holubová for clear reasons and now belongs to her, not to the Labor Office. Despite this, news server Romea.cz has obtained a recording of a telephone call between the landlord and tenant in which Opletal says: "I will not give you any cash in hand, I have said that more than once... I will not give you anything, Ms Holubová."

"You have f**ked me over so much I have no reason to meet you halfway on anything," Opletal goes on to say. When Holubová asks Opletal how she "f**ked him over", he answers: "Just by calling the cops on me and the television."

"You may not realize that two tenants have moved out because of you and I am losing money," Opletal says in the recorded conversation. According to information communicated to Romea.cz by some former occupants of other apartments leased by the A Property company, however, this is allegedly the firm's usual practice.

The former tenants say the firm asks for a "returnable" deposit from a new tenant and then unjustifiably evicts that tenant a couple of months later, keeps the deposit, finds another tenant for the empty unit, and gets another deposit from the next unsuspecting victim. The firm is apparently not afraid that its victims will sue, as most of them are impoverished families addressing primarily the existential problems caused by their evictions.

Ms Holubová is also concerned that A Property will deduct money from her deposit for "damages" that she anticipates Mr Opletal will simply fabricate. The rental contract contains a point stating that the landord can charge the tenant CZK 150 per day for storage of property in the cellar.

It is of no concern to the company that Ms Holubová was forced to store her property there against her will - indeed, the opportunity to charge her is undoubtedly why they engineered the storage of her property there during the eviction. News server Romea.cz will continue to follow this case.

 

voj, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Housing, byznys s chudobou, děti a mládež, Městská policie



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