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The State Audit Office: Both Attitude of the State and the Owners Should be Changed to Save Apartment Houses

14/01/2020 Drukāt šo rakstu

Thousands of Latvian residents live in their own or rented apartments apartment houses managed by local government, many of which are hazardous to health and life. The State Audit Office has concluded that the housing policy has not actually existed in the country since the denationalisation process. A huge part of Latvia’s housing stock degrades even to a condition of a slum.

During the audit, auditors have found that even in cases where local governments and the house managers established by them are obliged to determine a management fee, they do not determine the management fees according to the maintenance needs of the houses.

Building managers also play an important role in the maintenance of the building. One assessed during the audit how the building managers established by the local governments surveyed the technical condition of buildings, planned the work, calculated the resources needed for the maintenance of the buildings, and carried out the necessary repairs. It has been found that apartment owners even cannot find out about the technical condition of their building in more than 50% of houses, because annual inspections of the buildings have not been carried out at all. In addition, managers sin against drafting maintenance plans and repair estimates for the buildings, and the house files kept by managers are incomplete in general. The same refers to the management of non-residential buildings owned by local governments (schools, cultural centres, and libraries), where local governments also need to pay much more attention to identifying management needs and planning activities.

The legislator has entrusted the municipal building authorities with the duty of supervising so that the buildings in their territory are operationally safe. Building authorities have the right to intervene in situations where duties to ensure the safety of buildings are not fulfilled.

The auditors have concluded that the building authorities carry out inspections only in response to complaints from residents, rather than working systematically to improve the technical condition of the riskiest buildings first of all. During the audit, one discovered that the building authorities had not used the opportunity to receive data on buildings free of charge from the Cadastre Information System since 2015. Consequently, until the involvement of the auditors, the local governments were actually unaware of the total number of buildings they should have monitored.

In addition, even if the building authority identifies significant damage to the building, there are no binding decisions to eliminate those damages. Thereby the owners lack pressure from the controlling authority to put their property in order. The State Audit Office believes that local governments and their building authorities should focus on controlling the riskiest areas to ensure the operational safety of buildings both by detecting damages in due time and by imposing an obligation on the owners to eliminate already existing hazards.

Such attitudes, when the duties of the entities involved in ensuring the safety of buildings exist “on paper” only, and low solvency result in the fact that apartment houses are not properly maintained. For decades, the houses have been operated to the extent that many of them have turned dangerous to live in. Out of 82 apartment houses randomly surveyed during the audit, 51 houses or 62% of the houses, where are 736 apartments and approximately 1,500 people reside, there are the damages related to incompliance of the fire safety regulations. According to the data of the State Fire and Rescue Service of Latvia, the inadequate operation and construction of heating appliances and chimneys were potential causes of fires occurred in 279 apartment houses, which were the responsibility of the owners but what the active involvement of the house managers and building authorities could have been prevented.

As buildings continue to degrade by endangering occupants, passers-by, and the environment, the cost of necessary repairs is increasing as well. The State Audit Office has estimated that the cost of building a new housing stock would be 29 million euros to prevent residents from living in 51 fire-hazardous houses.

One has detected other significant damages in 62 houses or 60% of apartment houses such as leaking roof or inadequate roof condition, damp foundations, etc. The owners of one apartment house will pay up to 100,000 euros to repair those damages. This considerable expense, unfortunately, will be beyond the pocket of many owners. Following the audit, the State Audit Office will call for the Cabinet of Ministers to provide support to the Ministry of Economics, which is responsible for housing policy for the explicit assessment of the causes of the current situation and developing solutions to eliminate those causes. As the cost of building improvements exceeds the solvency of its owners, creating a financial support mechanism for building owners intending to invest in improving the operational safety of their house is one of the solutions. At the same time, all stakeholders should work actively on raising awareness of apartment owners that an apartment is a part of the whole house and that every individual must take care not only of their own space but also of the joint ownership, that is, the whole building.

The audit was carried out in Daugavpils and Valmiera, as well as in the Region of Aloja, Ērgļi, Gulbene, Limbaži, Olaine, Saldus, Tērvete, and Ventspils.

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