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Municipal apartments will no longer be rented 'indefinitely'

The concept of “open-ended lease” is gradually disappearing from the Latvian apartment rental market. Those people who rent flats from local governments feel it most acutely. For example, Rīga City Council plans to change some 3,000 indefinite rental contracts soon, setting a specific term for them, usually for two years, Latvian Television reported on January 22.

Several hundred people who live in Rīga local government residential homes late last year received a call from the City Council to switch current open-ended contracts to term contracts.

Anna has lived in a municipal home on Ulbrokas Street since 2011. She, too, had an open-ended contract until now. The letter from the municipality a week ago startled the elderly lady.

“Well, how about that! We had an open-ended contract, but now it's only for two years. So what will happen in two years?” asked Anna. “They will throw us out of the apartments or what?”

There is no other residence for Anna, the apartment granted by the municipality has always been kept in order and there have never been debts for either utility payments or rent in 13 years.

Neighbors were reluctant to speak in front of the camera, but also admit that after the call, the feeling of the future has become more uncertain. Some have even postponed their planned repairs because they don't know if they will be able to stay in the apartment.

Riga City Council explains that people who live in these apartments and do not have debts or other violations do not have to worry. When the new contracts expire, they will be automatically extended.

“I would like to reassure you right away [..] if rents have been paid, all obligations have been fulfilled, there should be no worry,“ explained Viesturs Zeps, chairman of Riga City Council's Housing and Environment Committee.

However, the City Council representative did not deny that the conditions, such as the amount of rent, could change when the contracts were switched.

“Conditions shouldn't get worse, but if management fees have risen, or other objective external costs, then the impact could be,” Zeps said.

Indefinite contracts are being switched so that those who do not pay rent or actually do not live at all in an apartment granted by the municipality can be controlled. The head of the Housing and Environment Committee also explains that the municipality does not have the option of maintaining open-ended contracts for conscientious tenants. The new Residential Tenancy Act, which provides only for fixed-term contracts, does not allow this.

The new arrangement will make it easier for the municipality to get rid of unlawful tenants, thereby making the living space available to those people who need it more. About 1,800 people are currently waiting in line for a municipal apartment.

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