The question of toughening the punishment for non-payment of housing debts repeatedly rises in Ukraine. One of the first things that came to mind of housing services workers was to cut off water or electricity in the whole house for big debts of certain residents. In recent years, there have been talks about alienation of property, including cars and apartments, in case of really big debts. However, the Ministry for housing and utility services assures that such "horror stories" are merely wild speculation or isolated incidents. Moreover, as of end of October, utility debts reduced to nine billion hryvnais, while a month ago they made UAH 10.6 billion.

ForUm has decided to find out how the situation stands and whether they may take your car or apartment for debts.

What kinds of sanctions exist

According to experts, there are specific examples of property sanctions for many-thousand debts. Thus, in 2011 the communal enterprise "Dnipropetrovsk heat network" created the black list of consumers, who owed for heat 100 hryvnias and more. The enterprises work with thousands of lawsuits against debtors and have arrested several cars in recent years, including BMWs and Chryslers. There is also a case of seizure of one-room apartment (for 5000 hryvnias debt), lawyer Oleksandr Tsaplin adds. "Owners of the seized property must either pay the debt, including execution fee (10% of the debt sum) or to fight in courts, challenging the very fact of debts, for example," the expert says.

In Donetsk, the communal services follow easier way: they seize household or personal electronics. Director of the communal enterprise "Donetsk city water service" Yuri Perebeinos declared earlier: "We do not have other options left. We are considering alienation of apartments, but this is a long process. The most effective is to collect household utilities. We chose those who can pay. Some debtors do not open the door, but we are working on it. If courts give us warrants we will break in even without owners." 

Representatives of public enforcement service sequestrate and estimate and communal service workers seal up and take charge of the property. Donetsk practice shows that already the next day debtors come, pay off in full the debts and take back their things. If nobody shows up in 10 days, the property will be auctioned, and the debtor will have to pay off the remaining debt anyway.

However, analysts remind that back in 2005 "Donetsk city heat network" defiantly sequestrated "Mercedes" of a resident. The next day the communal enterprise reported and the owner of the car paid off the debt in full. However, it turned out to be a set up in order to scary citizens and force them to pay for utility services.

Finally, this autumn traffic police have been ordered to detain cars, whose owners have debts of condominium fees, credits and alimony. The order, though, concerns only those who are on wanted list. According to Cabinet's resolutions, arrested cars must be kept on special parking lots and can be returned to owners only by request of a state enforcement officer. However, traffic police officers do not execute this order very aggressively.

Competent explanations

The Ministry for housing and communal services once again recommends not dramatizing the situation and remembering about the rights. Head of the Ministry department on housing policy Vitaly Shapovalenko points out the legal basis of operation of residential properties of the country, namely the Housing Code of Ukrainian Soviet Republic, the law of Ukraine "On housing and communal services" and "On housing cooperatives" and a number of decrees and amendments of the Cabinet. The specialist specifies that "this legislative framework has gone out of date and needs urgent modernization." Thus, the Housing Code of Ukrainian Soviet Republic was adopted in the beginning of 1980s. In the era of modern technologies and market relations, it slows down the development of housing services.

Moreover, according to the Ministry representative, numerous legislative acts and amendments complicate the modernization and regulating. "Only deregulation will allow holding large-scaled upgrade of the systems and modernization of the housing services. We do promote deregulation. It is undergoing in the sector of construction, and the housing service sector is the next in turn," Shapovalenko notes. He also adds that the department is developing a number of amendments to the legislative framework of creation and operation of housing cooperatives. "We understand that such important bills must be agreed with the public, and we do invite communities to take part in the discussion and development of legislative acts. Preparing the reformation of the housing sector we pay attention to ecological safety, economic and energy efficiency."

As for the cutting off the whole buildings for the debts of separate residents, the Ministry states that according to the law, if a consumer has not paid for services in due time and the parties have not agreed on the order of debt pay-off, the case must be considered in court. Any other actions, including cutting off the whole building, are not legally possible. Moreover, regardless of the debt's age, the communal service authorities can act to collect debts only for the last three years (action limitation period according to article 257 of the Civil Code of Ukraine), unless otherwise specified by the contract.

Separate specification on possible alienation of the apartment says that the right for dwelling is determined by the Constitution of Ukraine and nobody can be deprived of property unless under the law upon court order.

Not only the rights

The above-mentioned does not mean that one can ignore paying for the housing and communal services, referring to various problems. Moreover, according to expert estimations, among the biggest debtors there are wealthy citizens, who believe they can beat the system through personal connections or loopholes in the law. In this respect, head of the Ministry department on utilities system management Stanislav Zakharov says: "The majority of the population pays on time, but there are certain individuals who cause troubles. We do not want to introduce drastic measures and to scare people. However, the troublemakers must be dealt with. What we must do is to introduce late payment fee. I often receive complaints from people, like 'we pay and our neighbors do not, do something about it'." Relevant draft bill is expected to be adopted after the parliamentary elections. In fact, the Verkhovna Rada has already lifted the moratorium on late payment fee, but due to absence of relevant normative acts, the fee is not collected. 

Moreover, Shapovalenko reminds that there are not only "penal" incentives for timely payment. "We have a rewarding system working in Kyiv. Thus, if the payment is made before 20th of current month, consumers get discount (6% for heating and hot water and 10% for maintenance of houses and nearby territories).

Don't forget about the right for compensation for poor services. The Kyiv city state administration has confirmed that in case of poor housing and communal services, the housing department makes recalculations and consumers get their money back. Thus, in 2012 Kyiv citizens have received more than 30 million hryvnias of compensation for poorly rendered services. If something goes wrong, a consumer can report to the administration and his complaint will be registered in the special registry of consumers' claims.

After the investigation and establishment of the fact of poorly rendered services, the administration compiles a claim, which must be signed by the consumer and service provider. The document is considered within three working days, after which the administration announces its decision to satisfy or to deny the claim. Deputy head of the housing department of the Kyiv city state administration Volodymyr Bazhenov specifies: normative air temperature in dwellings is 18°C (20°C in corner apartments); allowed term of divergence from a norm is 12 hours one time per month.  The payment is reduced by 5% for each degree of divergence from 18°C to 12°С (from 20°C to 14°C in corner rooms) and if room temperature is lower than 12°С the payment for central heating is not charged.

So, do not forget about both rights and obligations. Indeed, the housing of the country requires urgent upgrade and reconstruction, thus let's help our communal services, which always lack budget financing. Moreover, despite constant price rise for energy sources and other components of prime cost, the tariffs are not that high, and independent estimations by foreign structures, like EBRD and various EU bodies, confirm this.

Therefore, the things are not that bad, and as the saying goes, "we will live".

Andriy Boyarunets


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