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Jiří Leschtina: Rents are waiting for Strasbourg

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When the Constitutional court decided last week that house owners may claim damages from the state that they have suffered from rent regulation, it did not receive applause from the representatives of the association of house owners. They said they do not believe in Czech courts any more. And they expect justice to come from Strasbourg. If this is so, the shame of our judiciary cannot be more evident.

Almost 5,000 house owners have filed lawsuits against the Czech state with the European Court of Human Rights. They are requesting compensation totalling CZK 4.5 billion as the rent that they collect in their houses with regulated rent does not cover all the building maintenance costs and the expenses for flats and buildings reconstruction. The Constitutional Court has issued more than 20 rulings that side with the house owners. Still, the courts of lower instance have decided in favour of a house owner in only one (!) case.

The acting of right-wing politicians and left-wing cabinets that have been prolonging rent regulation the same way as the Hollywood script editors prolong their heartbreaking soap operas can be easily explained. Both Civic and Social Democrats, as well as Christian Democrats have realized that the numbers of the privileged citizens who pay low rent at the expense of the landlords’ incomes are much higher than those of the house owners.

However, why do judges, who do not have to fight for voters’ preference, defend relentlessly the minority of citizens who live in flats with regulated rent? What brings them to ignore the sentences of the Constitutional Court that conclude that the state is breaking the owners’ rights to free enterprise?

It may be fear of clash with politicians – or maybe the fact that also judges or their relatives live in a flat with regulated rent. None of that, however, relieves them of the basic responsibility: if the house owners’ claims of lost profit prove to be legitimate, they have to rule in their favour. And order the state, who is maintaining the regulation, to pay appropriate compensation to them.

Only in this way politicians can be forced to change their attitude, something that the European Court for Human Rights is waiting for. If this change does not occur soon, a wave of “billion” sentences from Strasbourg may come that will be paid for also by the citizens who do not take advantage of the bound rents.

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