Kuncovka, an apartment complex 10 minutes by tram from the center of Brno, the 2nd largest city in the Czech Republic with a prosperous center. A five-year-old girl walks her “dog”, a broken DVD player, on the field by the front door. The “dog leash” is the power cord. Inside is a group of 15 people in a room of 18m2, the largest room of the apartment. In between the discussion children play with cardboard boxes, toys are not visible. The furniture is 4 chairs, 2 tables and a double folded mattress. Coffee and tea are made in the bathroom, there is no kitchen.
Julek is our host. He lives in 1 of the 48 apartments in the complex. He tells us that the dilapidated apartments of 30m2, without kitchen, are rented out for 10500 crowns (about 400 euros) per month. Last winter the owner did not turn on the heating. That way he can make even more profit. He regularly extorts the residents by turning off the electricity. For 750 crowns (30 euros) he then turns the electricity on again for a day.
The contracts for the residents are not ordinary rental contracts. They are monthly contracts that the owner tacitly renewed, despite being illegal under Czech law. If you criticize the owner, the extortion or the appalling condition of the building, your contract will not be renewed. If the owner is in a bad mood, he will not provide a receipt for the rent, so you lose your housing benefit.
If your contract is not renewed, the owner will wait until you are out the door. He breaks open your door and locks his fake dog in your apartment. The dog is trained to attack you if you try to get back into your apartment. While you have suddenly become homeless, the dog inside is breaking all your belongings. Judges are not involved.
We walk around the complex with Julek. All residents receive us warmly and immediately show a laundry list of maintenance problems. Almost all apartments have large mold spots and most doors and bathrooms are falling apart from misery. In the corridors there is open electricity everywhere and at the stairwell the windows under the banisters are out so that playing children can just fall outside from the first floor. We can't go into the basement, because that's where the owner locks his dog when he's not clearing out.
Why are you staying here? You are Roma and you live in a city with only a few dozen social housing units. Due to prejudice and racism, most private owners do not rent to Roma. The gap in the market is being filled by people like Robert Hrdina, white-collar criminals. The police hardly act against them; in a conflict between Roma and whites they assume that it will be the fault of the Roma. The criminal record of the white-collar criminals does not change that.
Something new is happening in Kuncovka. The inhabitants, “Chceme bydlet” (We want houses) and the activists of aslido Action Homeless Group from Ostrava have united and offered resistance. After setting up an alarm list, the intimidation by the owner has decreased. Residents are informed about their rights with posters in the corridors. The residents' collective has recently entered into talks with the municipality in the hope that they or the municipality can buy the complex and convert it into social housing.
Two activists from the Bond Precaire Woonvorm visited last week “Chceme bydlet” and Aslido. Aslido is a social housing network that fights to set up a national social housing system and improve legislation on this theme. During this visit, ideas and action tactics are exchanged and people participate in actions. The visit takes place thanks to the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City. The aim of this coalition is to make a more effective stand against multinationals and European policies aimed at gentrification and the erosion of residents' rights.
On departure, the owner approaches us threateningly. He says something in Czech, but quickly realizes that we don't speak Czech. Before fleeing to his black SUV parked three blocks away, he says with a wide grin, “You want to buy this building?”
In English: Precarious housing in the Czech Republic.