Unhousing Roma

11 July 2000

On August 1, 2000, ERRC staff members travelled to the northeastern Hungarian town of Ózd following reports that a number of Romani families had been evicted from their flats there. We met with members of the organisation Northern Hungarian Romani Union, who brought us to an apartment building at Number 11 Árpád Vezér Road, from which all of the inhabitants - all Romani - had recently been expelled. At the time of our visit, Number 11 was undergoing renovation, and two men in military fatigues stood in the window. They were evidently there to prevent unauthorised persons from entering the building. There was a large chest of drawers and a couch on the front lawn of Number 11, as well as a group of sullen former tenants.

The ERRC met with a woman named M.K. who had been expelled from Number 11 and rehoused in Number 9 Árpád Vezér Road. Ms M.K. is reportedly among only three families from Number 11 who have been rehoused. She had been served eviction papers from Number 11 on the grounds that she owes water bills of over 200,000 forints (over 750 euros) for a period of two years. Her water bills are calculated on the basis of a common water metre and she has no way of checking their validity. It is unclear how long she can stay in Number 9: Number 9 is also slated for renovation. Two of the families expelled from Number 11 own their flats. Housing officials have reportedly told them that they can return to Number 11 after builders finish work there, but only if they pay 300,000 forints (approximately 1150 euros) for the renovation.

In fact, the entire row of housing at the low numbers of Árpád Vezér Road - housing which locals told us is approximately 90% Romani - is slated to be purged of its inhabitants and remodelled. Concerning the future of Number 11, an article appearing in a local newspaper under the title "In Autumn the New Tenants Will Move In" and quoting information provided by a senior local official named Dr Csaba Almási, states that the new flats be "comfort" flats, intended for higher income families. Also, there will be an expert committee reviewing applications to preclude applicants who do not have an "appropriate housing culture". Roma presently living in Árpád Vezér Road understand that the new flats are not intended for them.

Local government officials reportedly have shown Romani organisations in Ózd lists with the names of 172 Romani individuals and families, all slated for eviction. Of these, in addition to the twelve families from Number 11 Árpád Vezér Road who have already been evicted, 31 families have reportedly received eviction notices. In recent weeks, the ERRC has also received reports that approximately fifty Roma in the town of Kunszentmiklós and fifty Roma in the southern city of Szeged have been expelled from their housing. Approximately one hundred Roma have been put on the street in Budapest.

All of the Romani families evicted to date in Ózd have been expelled by court order. However, in the future, it will not be necessary for public officials in Hungary to seek permission of a court before evicting. New legislation in Hungary, in effect since May of this year, allows the notary public to order evictions. According to the law, "The notary public's decision cannot be appealed in an administrative way. The party who regards the notary public's decision as unlawful may file a complaint in order to change the decision within fifteen days of receiving the decision." However, "The decision ordering the eviction must be implemented within eight days, even if the party concerned has filed a complaint." Significantly, the new law includes provisions to protect evicted furniture, but not tenants.

Housing and unhousing Roma is the theme of this issue of Roma Rights and a number of authors have provided excellent articles. On evictions, see for example Christina Rougheri's piece on Greece or ERRC advocacy concerning Italy on page 86. Martin Demirovski writes on the failure of Macedonian authorities to rehouse Roma following a catastrophic fire. Eva Sobotka writes on one Czech ghetto, and the photo essay by Tatjana Perić depicts Roma kept away from their houses due to continuing ethnic hatred in Bosnia. Not all of the articles are negative: Ina Zoon offers a rich description of the right to adequate housing, and Mihail Gheorgiev and Barbora Kvočeková indicate strategies for advocates and litigators in the field of housing. Roma in Ózd will be needing them, and much more, in the coming weeks.


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