There are more than 10,000 families in Prague who live in council flats but never pay their rent. They can get away with it for months or years even after they are ordered out of the flat by the courts, as Pavla Horakova reports.
Once a rent-defaulter is identified and receives a court order to move out, it often takes a long time to force them out - usually around a year and a half - but some cases have been known to drag on for four years after the verdict. Councils are helpless - rent dodgers are poor and there is usually not much to confiscate to cover the debt. Overall, rent defaulters in Prague owe their local councils around 300 million crowns. Petr Jirava is the mayor of the Prague 11 district. Two rent-dodging families in his district were evicted on Wednesday.
"People who are ordered by the court to move out go to low category council flats, but the case often is that the flat is deserted and there is no one to throw out. If the defaulters are still living in the flat, they have to move to these low category flats where they can stay for six months but what happens next, is really up to them."
Councils build and run special houses where they offer temporary shelter to the rent dodgers and Petr Jirava says that the number of these flats would have to be quadrupled to cover the need. The flats have only basic facilities, for example only cold running water, and several flats have to share one toilet and one shower. Judge Jaromir Jirsa explains how rent defaulters prove they are not able to pay their debts.
"They have to submit a property declaration, which is a radical change in our legal system. People have to give all details about their property and they face criminal sanctions if they conceal certain data or give false information."
What happens when the rent-defaulters are evicted but unable to pay their accumulated debt? Mayor Petr Jirava explains how the councils go about obtaining the money they are owed.
"The district can rent out the flat to somebody else. If the debts are large - which they always are - a public tender is announced for the flat. As a condition, the bidder has to cover the existing debt."
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