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March 21, 2018
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Czech Republic: Housing estate residents without heat during freezing weather, situation is critical

5.3.2018 12:34
The Janov housing estate in the Czech town of Litvínov, March 2018. (PHOTO:  ROMEA TV)
The Janov housing estate in the Czech town of Litvínov, March 2018. (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

During the past week throughout the entire Czech Republic temperatures have been far below freezing and most people are glad to get warm at home in the evening under their blankets with the heat turned up high. Residents of the Janov housing estate in Litvínov, however, are going to have the worst memories in the country of the winter of 2018.

The heat there has been cut off to the building on Třebušická Street. I travelled there to find out how tenants of that building were getting by during these frozen days.

I arrived into town and passed by two apartment buildings that are derelict. One was on Gluckova Street and the other on Albrechtická Street, where heat and hot water were shut off in October 2017.

Tenants have moved from those streets to the surrounding apartment buildings or to other towns. The heat was cut off due to a failure to pay deposits.

Most tenants told me they claim housing benefits that are paid directly to the account of their landlord. Deposits for heat are included in the rent.

Local residents see the problem as being that the owners of the buildings are various individuals from the Czech Republic and abroad (Russia, Ukraine), as well as a real estate agent with whom communication is very poor. In October 2017 water was disconnected at Janov from apartment block C (uninhabitable to this day), because the debt there had not been paid.

Inside such buildings, each apartment unit can also be separately owned by multiple individuals, many of whose whereabouts are unknown, while the buildings themselves are administered by different companies and middlemen who negotiate between the owners and tenants. The director of SBD Krušnohor, a previous administrator of block C, said the money paid by responsible tenants "goes missing somewhere along the way".

The City of Litvínov and the Labor Office began to look for where the money is going that is ostensibly being paid for rent and utilities, as well as the money for other housing costs covered by different benefits. According to documents available to the editors at news server, at the end of October 2017, the debt to the heat supplier for block C exceeded CZK 300 000 [EUR 12 000].

That situation was never resolved and now another building, this one in Třebušická Street, was disconnected from the heat in February 2018. The practice of the current building administrator, LiRaS s.r.o. - Litvínovské realitky a správy, is to redistribute the amount owed among the few remaining owners of the apartment units and the members of their association (SVJ) - who did not, however, incur these debts.

Two more apartment buildings are now threatened with disconnection from heat and hot water at Janov. "I have already moved twice and again we are without heat, I'm desperate," complains a resident in the building on Třebušická Street, the occupants of which found themselves trapped at the beginning of February 2018 when the heat was disconnected and new housing was unavailable.

I do not comprehend how it is possible for these people to pay their rent properly - as the Třebušická Street tenant documented to me with receipts - and for their families to end up without heat. She begins to explain the situation: "I lived on Gluckova Street and they disconnected us there, I moved here and the situation is repeating itself."

"I'm not the only one, there are more of us here in this situation," she said." Whoever could leave and had somewhere to go has already moved away, but even so there are about 15 families left in the building who have nowhere else to go.

There are young children there now, including infants. Some families have addressed the problem with electrical space heaters that are costly and not energy efficient.

As I visit the families my heart aches to see children wearing their outdoor coats as they are jammed beneath their comforters indoors. In front of the building a bunch of people have assembled who are all talking at the same time and complaining.

"The elevator doesn't run here anymore, we have to drag the prams up the stairs," one mother says. "We are paying the rent properly. We have nowhere to go, we're like prisoners here," somebody shouts from the crowd.

I get their sense of grievance and hopelessness. "I believe Janov will collapse soon, it is not our fault the landlords don't pay correctly as they should and the city is leaving us in this situation without any aid," another tenant complains.

He is basically voicing something that has been running through my mind the entire time: How can the city abandon them to such a situation? They are residents of the city and if some accident or unexpected situation happens - for example a flood, a fire, a gas explosion - the city always provides its inhabitants with aid.

The current freezing days and nights, during which the temperatures are approaching -20 Celsius, are also a crisis situation in which the health and lives of people, of young children, are endangered. Here at Janov, however, there is no indication that representatives of the city are interested in these residents or offering them aid.

The impression is that it suits the city leadership for the landlords to aid the leadership by reducing the number of socially vulnerable inhabitants of the city through taking this approach. I do my best to contact the head of Litvínov's social welfare department, but unfortunately I do not succeed.

The social welfare head is busy in a meeting and her secretary promises she will call back, but that does not happen. I attempt to connect with the administrator of the apartment units for the LiRaS firm, Mr Škvor.

He answers the phone just to inform me that he will soon no longer be working in that position. How LiRaS wants to address the crisis situation that has arisen is not something I was able to discover.

There are municipal social services locally called "First Step", and nonprofit organizations working directly in the center of the Janov housing estate, Libuše, z. s. and Caritas Most, which gave me this statement: "We aid people with finding new housing, but it is a difficult task because people cannot afford to pay high rent deposits and Romani families are a problem for many real estate offices."

"We also offer warm clothing and food aid and donate bedding to them that has been donated to us," the Caritas statement reads. The freezing days are supposed to pass away this week, but winter is far from over.

People are wearing their coats day and night, indoors or outdoors, and the sick children lying beneath several layers of blankets in their frozen apartments are still the hostages to these traffickers in poverty. Even though they have no heat, these tenants must keep one paying the rent so they will not become debtors in the eyes of the city and local authorities - if they did they would lose the opportunity to draw on housing benefits at all, which is their last chance at keeping a roof over their heads.

Renata Kováčová, David Polhoš, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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