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Czech Republic: Romani tenants have one day to move out

Ostrava, 3.8.2012 18:15, (ROMEA)
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The families living in 10 apartment buildings on Přednádraží street were told at 10 AM today that they must vacate their residences by midnight tomorrow (Saturday). If they do not do so, police will intervene. The reason is the poor state of the buildings, which were inspected yesterday by the building works authority.

The residents unequivocally refuse to move. It is not yet clear what will happen next. Approximately 200 people were living in the ghetto this week, but Jana Pondělíčková, spokesperson for the Municipal Department of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz, said 14 families have already moved out and into a residential hotel.

The official order to vacate the buildings was communicated to the tenants by representatives of the state authority and the local council today. "Today they instructed the owner of the buildings and everyone remaining in the buildings to immediately vacate the premises within one day of the verbal instruction," Pondělíčková said. The building works authority will monitor whether the buildings have really been vacated next week.

The decision was read aloud to the tenants by the head of the building works authority, Jiří Švarc. The Romani tenants responded very emotionally. "We are not leaving! Only if they come to shoot us! We are willing to lay down our lives!" shouted Jan Bandy, who is the spokesperson for the ghetto residents.

Other people joined him, shouting that even violence would not remove them from their apartments. "How are you going to get us out of these apartments? Me, specifically - how are you going to get me out of my apartment? Are you going to drag me by the arm or leg, or throw me out the window? How are you going to do it? You will never get me out of my apartment, you drag me out and I will return," one of the women told Švarc.

Oldřich Roztočil, whose Domy Přednádraží firm owns the buildings, said he has no idea what to do now. Pondělíčková said that if the people do not move out, the building works authority will take further steps, but she did not want to say what they might be.

Roztočil, who bought the buildings about two years ago, said the main reason he cannot proceed with repairs to them is that the sewer lines are broken. Repairs to the sewer lines are reportedly being prevented because it is not clear who owns them. Last week the Ostrava Waterworks and Sewerage company cut off water to the buildings for non-payment of invoices.

The building works authority, however, found many more flaws. "When we checked the buildings we found serious deficiencies and gross damage to the load-bearing parts of the building (balconies, ceilings, etc.), the chimneys and roofs are damaged, the internal electricity distribution system cannot be operated safely, and the walls are damp thanks to the fact that the internal sewer mains don't work," Pondělíčková said.

"The authorities are right about one thing. The buildings are in a very poor state of repair. How could they not be? Officials have been coming here every two weeks and saying that people have to move out of Přednádraží and the buildings have to be torn down, and the Romani people, because of their mentality, have started to remove everything that has some resale value from the building. Everything metal has disappeared, the electrical wiring has been torn out," Roztočil said.

Bandy said the people who have destroyed the buildings are not their long-term residents. "Those people learned they would have to move. We never wanted those people, the ones who moved in and devastated these buildings, here in the first place," Bandy said.

Ghetto residents say problems with the buildings began after 1997, when the cellars were flooded. They say the previous owner never took care of the buildings.

The current landlord is convinced people will not be able to move out in such a brief time. "For two years I have been warning about the poor state of these buildings and no one much cared. Suddenly, now that the media has taken an interest in this matter, everything is being done at lightning speed. Why couldn't they give everyone a week to move out?" asked Roztočil, adding that the building works authority's decision confirms that the state's entire procedure in this matter has been designed for this purpose. "From one day to the next, someone decides that during the last 24 hours the state of affairs has changed such that these buildings must now be condemned. What's the difference between what it was like here on Monday and today? Until now they could all live here, and then suddenly they have to move out," Roztočil said.

Roztočil expects the tenants to respond very emotionally: "Many are refusing to move. They've lived here for decades. If the authorities call police officers in, I don't know what will happen. I fear the worst, I am doing my best to explain to them that they have to calm down. Last week I asked the police to move out the tenants who are causing the biggest problems here, but no one was interested. Now everyone has to go. The authorities are not acting fairly."

Roztočil also said he does not know who will guard the vacated apartments to make sure no one devastates them even further. In addition to tenants who pay their rent regularly, he says there are many people still in the buildings whose leases expired, as well as people who have forced their way into apartments to squat. He has filed criminal charges against them with the police. "I have apartments in which complete strangers are squatting and the police haven't even come to take a look here - it's been four days," the entrepreneur complained.

Police spokesperson Gabriela Holčáková said police are investigating the matter. "The person who filed the charges was asked to provide additional information. We have not yet decided whether a specific illegal behavior has been committed," Holčáková said.

The authorities are seeking substitute accommodation for the ghetto residents in residential hotels. However, many do not want to move into such arrangements, primarily those who have been regularly paying rent. "At this moment, 14 families have signed leases and will move into the residential hotel. There should be room at the new one in Cihelní street for up to 26 families," Pondělíčková said, adding that the ghetto houses 44 families total, 36 of whom have children.

People who have lived on Přednádraží street for 30 years or more are refusing to move into the residential hotel. They insist they want to help repair the buildings instead. "One room for nine people, a common toilet in the hallway - I won't go live in a residential hotel. My family doesn't want to go there, not one of us. These apartments are beautiful," Bandy said. Ghetto residents also say the residential hotels are too expensive.

The municipality had one of the buildings in the ghetto torn down last year. "The state of that building had been poor for a long time. We moved the nine families into apartments owned by the municipality," said Pondělíčková. An epidemic of hepatitis also occurred last year on Přednádraží street because of the poor hygienic conditions there.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Radka Steklá, ras, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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