Do they want to punish the residents of protest houses?
Officials have prepared changes for homeowners' associations, which have already raised questions among the population. For example, the money that residents of such associations collect for major repairs wants to be channeled into a common pot. And they plan to tighten the requirements for work for HA chairmen. To achieve this, they intend to introduce innovations in the management and operation of the housing stock, and at the same time, amendments to housing and communal services and the Housing Code. The corresponding bill has already been approved in the first reading in the “parliament”, but at the same time it was submitted for public discussion. The bill has already collected about 70 comments, which is an extraordinary situation, writes Zerkalo.
What do they want to change?
The bill was posted for public comment on the national legal forum. This was done after the “parliament” adopted the document in the first reading on September 19. You can leave your opinion until October 2.
One of the key points of the bill is that officials want to tighten the grounds on which chairmen of homeowners’ associations can lose their jobs. This refers, among other things, to the provision of housing and communal services, the maintenance of common property and the local area. They also want to tighten penalties for failure to comply with the requirements of local authorities. At the same time, officials want to introduce a requirement that if residents do not find a new chairman of the board within a certain period, then a new one will be appointed by local authorities.
It is assumed that the chairman of the board will be able to work in only one homeowner’s association.
Another possible change is to collect money for major repairs from owner associations in a new way. It is proposed to transfer these funds to special bank accounts that will be opened by local authorities. Moreover, these funds will subsequently be used for major repairs of residential buildings. It is read from the bill that the money will go into the general pot, that is, it will be taken for repairs not only of the houses of the specific owner’s association whose residents transferred it.
Now a homeowners' association can have its own bank account in which funds collected for major repairs will be stored. These funds can be placed as a deposit.
And this is only a part of the proposed changes; there are significantly more of them.
What comments do Belarusians make on the bill?
At the national legal forum, about 70 comments have already been left under the discussion of the bill. This is not a typical situation. As a rule, such discussions do not arouse interest among Belarusians.
Thus, one of the comments concerns the intention of officials to introduce a requirement that the chairman of the board manage only one owners’ association.
“I think this can only be accepted if the citizen has a main job. The chairman of the board, who professionally deals only with real estate management and this is their main job, can work in several owner organizations,” says one of those who left a comment. Another user believes that this requirement should not be introduced.
Several comments at once concern the fact that not every owners’ association can provide a salary for the chairman of the board.
“If a rule is introduced that one chairman of the board can manage one association, we, as owners who have apartments in a small building, will not be able to compete in terms of the chairman’s salary with buildings with 300 or more apartments,” wrote a resident of a building with 100 apartments, in many of which large families live. “This will ultimately lead to the liquidation of the association, and our common property will be managed by the housing and communal services sector, contrary to our wishes. This means that the cost of apartments will fall due to inadequate quality of service, and our comfort of living in the house will be disrupted.”
According to this user, the proposed changes worsen the situation regarding the maintenance of common property and “actually deprive them of the right to choose how to manage common property and the opportunity to elect a chairman.”
“I am totally against this one house-one chairman scheme. If something works well, why spoil it?” another commentator on the bill joined.
Belarusians also have questions about deductions for major repairs. “Owners are not confident that years later there will be something left for the overhaul of their house. I propose an alternative: each association transfers the money for major repairs to a special account that is opened for each association, for example, in Belarusbank. This is a special deposit account. Using money from this special account is possible only after permission from the district administration,” suggests another commentator.
“I am concerned about the issue of money for major repairs. They will be on a special account, and you can take them only when it’s your turn, i.e. never. A similar scheme is now in housing services, but as practice has shown, the scheme does not work for residents, writes another commentator. — When the roof of the house leaked and urgent repairs were needed, the housing department threw up its hands and covered the holes in the roof with some kind of mastic for three months, although people had donated enough money for major repairs over 30 years. As a result, residents will be without money and without repairs. And without a chairman to whom one could make a claim in the event of a breakdown or accident, as the housing and communal services department is totally useless.”
Questions also arose regarding the desire of officials to tighten requirements for the chairmen of owner associations. “In the current version of the Housing Code, there are a large number of requirements for the chairman of the board of an organization of owners. One of the latest additions was the introduction of mandatory professional certification, which must be re-passed every three years,” said another user of the national legal forum.
Why can the current changes be made?
The first possible reason for the potential innovations is that, albeit with a delay, they will further punish the residents of protest houses who were active during the 2020 presidential campaign and the subsequent events in the country.
Owners' associations are often created in new buildings. It so happened that, at least in Minsk, some of these houses hosted activities in 2020. This strained officials, and Aliaksandr Lukashenka recalled protest activities to owner associations even in 2022 and threatened their leaders with tougher working conditions.
The second potential reason for the prepared changes is to close the shortage of funds in the housing and communal services sector. This year, the republican budget planned to allocate funds in the amount of 6.7 million rubles for housing and communal services and housing construction. This is almost 14 times less than last year — 96.3 million rubles. Of these, a little less than 3 million rubles were allocated for “other issues in the field of housing and communal services”, while last year it was 92.9 million. Although there was a reduction in these expenses last year — from 385.7 million rubles in 2021 to almost 93 million.
In 2022, housing and communal services expenses were also among the first to go under the knife.
In a situation where owners’ associations are often created in new buildings, in which major repairs will obviously be required not now, but after some time, you can use the money received for such work.
What preceded the current innovations
The issue of the work of owners' associations was raised on January 13, 2022 at a meeting of Aliaksandr Lukashenka and the government. Then the politician stated the need to strengthen the responsibility of HOA chairmen for failure to ensure the safety, proper operation and maintenance of common property and that “life itself led to this.”
“We have all seen the damage caused to buildings, structures and public property as a result of the so-called protest actions. Thank God that they have not burned the capital yet, as they did with the financial capital of Kazakhstan (this refers to the protests in this country on the first of December 2022 — edit.),” Aliaksandr Lukashenka said then. “In the overwhelming majority of cases, this happened with the connivance of, and sometimes on the initiative of, the leaders of homeowners’ organizations. Huge amounts of money were spent on eliminating the consequences and putting things in order.”
Then Aliaksandr Lukashenka added: “Well, I won’t say what position they took, but we all remember it very well.”
On April 5, 2022, at a meeting on topical issues of the functioning of the housing and communal services sector, Aliaksandr Lukashenka again raised the issue of the work of owner’s associations. The politician then said that they receive “traditionally a lot of complaints.” “People sometimes don’t understand what they pay for. “I want to warn Minsk residents, first of all, and others: God forbid, I point my finger at another association,” Aliaksandr Lukashenka said then. “This applies to all settlements. Discipline and more discipline.”
Already on April 9, the then head of the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services Andrei Khmel spoke about the redistribution of forces in the sphere.
“Of the entire wave of citizens’ appeals that exist in the housing and communal services industry, 5% are issues related to owner’s associations,” said Andrei Khmel. “These are unreasonable extortions, decisions made incorrectly in terms of legislation, misuse of funds paid by citizens, failure by the head of the Customs Union to make certain specific decisions and failure to respond to requests from citizens. <…> And today there is a need to make certain decisions in order to level out this problem.”
Then Andrei Khmel said that “the state cannot leave the situation as it is.” “It seems that the management and operation of the housing stock in the future will be carried out only by specialized organizations. For the most part, I see these will be housing and communal services organizations,” said Andrei Khmel.