Thursday, February 07, 2008

Rights of home owners under attack

The Bulgarian law managing property in multi-storey apartment buildings (Bulg. Zakon za etazhnata sobstvenost) has been virtually unchanged since the 1950s. Now, the National Assembly will discuss changes in it proposed by the government. From what I know about the changes, I do not like them. And I am not the only one. Bulgarians can read criticism of the draft law e.g. at Dnevnik and Standart News.
Let me translated a little of the latter article, by Pepa Vitanova, titled Neighbours by the jungle law: "(With the proposed changes) the general assembly of apartment owners is allowed to evict a tenant or owner who violates the block's interior regulations... But who can assure that the neighbour' verdict will be just? The story of journalist Vassil Ivanov is an example of how far into the jungle neighbours' relationships can go. (You can read more about Ivanov in my May 19, 2006 post - M.M.) After his home was bombed, life became hell for my colleague and his mother. Neighbours kept telling them to move out, insulted them and threatened them. Vassil did move out but the neighbours continued to harass his mother... The proposed changes untie neighbours' hands to apply their pack instincts in accordance with the law... There was a report about a single mother with a small child who had lived for six months without any water supply because her neighbour from below had cut off the pipes. The house manager was hiding and finally took the side of the guilty man. If house managers are given more rights, as the draft law proposes, they will treat their neighbours as tenants in every respect."
I have lived in apartment blocks for all my life and I'll most likely die in one. Despite the advantages they offer for heating, I find them hardly compatible with privacy and human dignity. In my 2006 post Water regime, or how to create and perpetuate misery I quoted a friend calling them "hen-houses". As far as I know, in civilized countries such buildings usually belong to one owner renting them to poor people. In Bulgaria, each apartment is owned by a different family. Hence, it is next to impossible to fund and organize anything requiring combined efforts of all owners, e.g. roof repair. Apartment blocks begin to deteriorate from the moment they are handed to their owners. However, I don't think this can be an excuse to infringe property rights of individual owners.
I first learned about the proposed right to evict "bad" neighbours from TV news. The report was illustrated by an interview of inhabitants of an apartment block in Sofia. They all said that it would be very good if the change came into effect, because there were some drug addicts in the building (the camera showed empty syringes thrown on the floor) and everybody wanted them out. (These people seemed to think that only some alien life form could use drugs and there was not even a 0.000001 % risk for their own teenage children to become addicted.)
I immediately began to think what could happen if people were indeed allowed to evict their neighbours. You can be ordered out for being a Gypsy, a Turk or a Jew. Or for being Bulgarian in a building populated by Gypsies or Turks. Or for having an autistic child. For anything you like, if only neighbours find it inconvenient. Sounds like the times we hoped to have left behind.
The situation with tenants has always been like this. In Bulgaria, very few people live in rented housing because the high rents prevent young adults from leaving their parents' home. So tenants are regarded by many as an unnatural phenomenon which can be tolerated only as an exception and mustn't be allowed to disturb other people's comfort. My uncle used to own an apartment just above that of R., a very bad woman. He lived elsewhere and had asked my mother to find tenants for his apartment. But whoever was renting the apartment, R. was unhappy. At one time, a company was using it as an office. My mother thought, "Now at least R. will shut up, because the apartment will be empty after 5 PM." However, R. complained that the company's secretary had shoes with heels that were producing too much noise! (The floor was covered with moquette, not with terracotta tiles, as you could suppose.) No one tenant could satisfy R., she just wanted the apartment to stay empty for her comfort.
It is especially difficult to find a rented home if you have a child. I knew a man with a baby who, after searching long, had found an accommodation for rent. It was in bad need of repair. He invested much money and work in repairing it, and then the landlord ordered his family out. He finally had to rent a house in the nearby village of Vladaya, which becomes isolated from the world with the first snowfall. My mother also once let a family with children in my uncle's apartment and regretted it. R. became furious, threatened that if no measures were taken to end "the unbearable noise from tenants' domestic quarrels", she would call the police. My mother went to check first-hand and saw that the tenants didn't quarrel at all. The "unbearable noise" turned out to be the crying of the younger child, a newborn baby. What to do, newborn babies are like this. Perhaps R.'s anger was partly due to the fact that the tenants were Arabs. (They soon moved out.)
If the proposed law is enacted, not only tenants but also apartment owners will be harassed and dispossessed by people like R. And this can happen very well. Most of our lawmakers have nice houses with gardens in prestigious suburbs and cannot be expected to care for the poor people in crowded "hen houses". And, as we have observed many times, they don't even pay attention to what exactly they vote.
I would like to repeat what smarter people have said before: private property, and its protection by law, is the basis of any free and prosperous society. As Friedrich von Hayek wrote, only property can guarantee freedom, and freedom not only for those who have property but even for those who haven't. We mustn't let members of ruling coalition infringe our property rights. Why don't they just resign and become house managers, like Ostap Bender?


Marla said...

I can not even imagine. This has been an eye opening post for me.

Thanks for visiting my blog and your kind words on M.

Maya M said...

Thank you! I am happy that Maizie is feeling better.