Expert: Law Tilted Toward Tenants, Away from Landlords

An administrator at the Real Estate School says the part of the Law of Obligations Act that governs leases is skewed in favor of tenants and should be rewritten.

Tõnu Toompark, a board member at the school, which trains realtors and appraisers as well the public, told ETV the law dates from a time shortly after the end of the Soviet era when thousands still paid rent in buildings that had been returned to their prewar owners.

The issue came up, as they do so often in Estonian media, after a segment on ERR’s investigative program “Pealtnägija,” which detailed the story of a young family that could not evict a tenant, try as they might.

“Landlord rights in such a case are fairly limited and the only possibility for them is to take court action. And as we see the mills of due process churn slowly, even extremely slowly sometimes,” said Toompark, adding that the situation was a costly “nuisance” for landlords.

In the case covered by the program, the young couple’s “tenant from hell” – from their perspective, that is – was a realtor herself, acquainted with the law, and litigious.

The couple bought the property at an auction knowing that there was a long-running dispute over unpaid utility bills. They canceled the tenant’s lease soon after closing on the house. But they found that each of their steps to rid themselves of the tenant was met with counteractions in court. And the eviction process was time-consuming and expensive. The state fee for filling eviction action was 1,000 euros, for instance.

Toompark says the situation has changed since the days when Soviet-era tenants were grandfathered into buildings they did not own. He said the law should be rewritten so that lessor and lessee are equal partners who both have the intention of entering into a lease

For the time being, Toompark cautioned that landlords should be careful about who they decide to rent to and conduct background checks, including making full use of informal avenues such as Google and Facebook.

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