Czech Republic: Building owner demolishing controversial properties on Přednádraží Street in Ostrava
The buildings on Přednádraží Street in Ostrava from which about 25 Romani families had to move away two years ago have been under new ownership since mid-October. After several unsuccessful auctions, the buildings were bought for almost CZK 600 000 (EUR 22 000) by the Ostrava Engineering and Repair Plant (Ostravské opravny a strojírny), which also owns a production facility nearby.
News server Lidovky.cz reports that the company wants to demolish all 10 buildings, which are in a desolate state due to disputes between the owner of the properties and the owners of the land around them. The Ostrava Engineering and Repair Plant expressed an interest in the shabby properties in June.
The news server reports that the previous owner's bankruptcy administrator said what is most valuable to the new owner is the land and the Ostrava Building Works Authority has issued a demolition order for that acreage that has now taken effect. The new owner therefore is now obligated to demolish all the buildings.
At the same time, however, negotiations await the company with the owners of the adjacent parcels, because there is no access without their agreement. The buildings are surrounded by land that is owned by others.
"We also went into this acquisition because we own a production facility in the immediate vicinity. For the time being, however, we don't know at all whether we will succeed in buying up the adjacent land too. That investment is completely up in the air," Mr Ležatka, the legal representative of Ostrava Engineering and Repair Plant, told Lidovky.cz.
Given that one of the owners of the surrounding plots of land is the Czech Rail Administration, which manages the state's property there, negotiation of the purchase could take years. Helena Balabánová, vice-chair of the local Společně-JEKHETANE ("Together") organization, pointed out to news server Romea.cz that when they had been occupied, the rents had been disproportionately high in the buildings used as rental housing for socially disadvantaged people despite the poor state of repair of the individual apartments, and no previous owner had ever invested into repairs.
The tenants had warned of the deteriorating situation in the locality by issuing a "Petition for the Rights of the Residents of the Přednádraží Locality in Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz" as long ago as 2007. The petition was addressed to then-Transport Minister Aleš Řebíček and representatives of the Municipal Department of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz – of course, without achieving any results.
In 2012 the authorities announced to the people living on Přednádraží Street that they had until midnight the following day to move out of their homes. That announcement was followed by a fight against the decision and a long-lasting effort to save at least one of the buildings.
Ultimately, however, almost all of the occupants ended up elsewhere in overcrowded, overpriced residential hotels that are substandard in terms of hygiene and their social impacts on the residents. "They took away the home we had lived in for decades. Now we have spent two years moving from one apartment to another, we don't know what will happen next month, we basically have nothing now," Ms Helena, a longtime resident of Přednádraží Street, summarized the situation last year to news server Romea.cz.
The last occupants left the properties in 2013, when neither the electricity, sewerage or water services had been running for some time. Ever since then what to do with the buildings has been a problem.
The properties didn't sell for the asking price, so the owner's creditors proposed they be auctioned off. The auction price for both the buildings and the land beneath them was roughly CZK 1.5 million (EUR 55 000).
The Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) organization, led by Kumar Vishwanathan, attempted to purchase the properties. His aim was to make it possible for the Romani tenants to return to their homes.
That plan did not work out. On the one hand there were financial reasons for the failure, and on the other hand there were concerns about the legal wrangling in the unresolved dispute of who was the actual owner of the devastated sewer lines leading to one of the buildings.
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