Attorney ready to fight rent case

With seven successful cases in the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) under her belt, attorney Klára Veselá-Samková feels confident enough to tackle her most challenging litigation by representing 4,500 Czech landlords from the Association of Homeowners (OSMD) claiming state compensation to cover what regulated rents left them unable to collect.
Amid mounds of paper filling her office, Veselá-Samková talks about the fight against frozen rents and dismisses the possibility of losing the case

Tens of billions of Czech crowns in compensation is being demanded by landlords who claim that regulated rents have prevented them from maintaining their properties and generating profits. With a new law enabling landlords to raise rents having taken effect Jan. 1, Veselá-Samková will emphasize that the Czech courts haven’t respected earlier findings of the Czech Constitutional Court that denounced the state’s regulations and encouraged landlords to battle for their rights.

Realizing the importance of this precedent-setting case, former managing officials of the Ministry of Justice for the first time ever declared a tender to bring in an external legal firm for preparing one of its defenses. Only two legal firms applied in the tender. In the end, Petr Toman, a lawyer who’s known for representing the Civic Democrats (ODS), won the assignment and assembled a team of experts.

Q: Do you consider Toman to be a dignified adversary?

A: I’ve personally known him for 16 years. He’s won a couple of very difficult constituional complaints. I’m sure he’ll use all possible means to win. Nevertheless, the case is already lost for the Czech Republic.

Q: Why do you think only two candidates applied in the ministry tender?

A: No legal firm would go for a case that is lost from the beginning.

Q: How can you be so sure about the result?

A: Last fall, the ECHR ruled in favor of two Maltese landlords who suffered from the same regulatory approach that Czech landlords do. Moreover, the lower courts [in the Czech Republic] ignore findings of the Constitutional Court that are in favor of landlords, and the number of lawsuits pending in Czech courts grows. However, the courts of first instance refuse these findings and decide in favor of tenants. There are hundreds of such cases. I have a database of them so I can show them to the court in Strasbourg and it will be apparent that it's been a mass refusal of justice. There’s really no point questioning the legal side of it.

Q: How many complaints have currently been filed in Strasbourg?

A: Today, there are approximately 4,500 appeals. In December alone, 120 landlords applied. The Czech Republic enormously underestimates one thing – there are 4,500 angry people who constantly think about this issue. I get tons of e-mail daily with ideas [about] how to improve the evidence situation. Imagine, we have 4,500 people brainstorming. No government can buy such a service [through a tender]. I have piles of evidence [and] materials in my office.

Q: Why do you think the number of complaints is growing so rapidly?

A: Because people are sure they’ll win. But most of all they are persuaded that without brutal pressure on the state nothing will be solved.

Q: What are the calculated estimated losses for the landlords?

A: Today, we can speak of up to Kč 150 billion (€ 5.39 billion) since March 1993. It was then the Czech Republic joined the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The regulation violates that convention. Of course, this [estimate is based on] the most generous vision.

Q: How do you calculate the damages?

A: It's an ongoing process. We conduct the so-called test cases. We monitor around 10 flats in a variety of locations that were built in different years, and we calculate the damages over a set time period. Then we get a table with an arrangement of damages with respect to different regions. Landlords are then able to calculate their personal losses.

Q: ECHR gave priority to Czech complaints. Will they be discussed as a whole?

A: Probably not. The court will approach the complaints in sequence with respect to the dates they were filed. There were from five to seven sequences in which the complaints were sent. In the first sequence in June 2005 there were 1,700 complaints. But frankly, this is unimportant. ECHR rules are based on precedents and, therefore, all the complaints must be treated in the same way.

Q: Do you have an idea when the court will begin to hear the cases?

A: The Maltese cases were filed later than the Czech ones and they are already decided, so I expect something will happen soon. We have to realize that the [ECHR] court section in charge of the Czech complaints is facing an avalanche in contrast to the Maltese situation. The court might also wait for the result of the Hutten-Czapska case. Her compensation should have been resolved in the middle of December, however, the Polish government asked for an extension of the term. They’ve now until the end of February. Editor’s note: Maria Hutten-Czapska is a Polish landlord. ECHR recognized her rights for moral compensation and imposed on Poland the obligation of paying the costs of the due process. ECHR also decided that Poland must agree to compensate Hutten-Czapska for her losses due to rent regulation.

Q: How much is she demanding?

A: According to my information from her lawyer [Bartlomiej Sochanski], with whom I'm in touch, she is asking for € 134 000 for the rent regulation of three flats. If she doesn’t reach an agreement with the state, Strasbourg will decide on the compensation.

Q: How does her lawyer describe the current situation in Poland?

A: He says that there are companies in Poland buying claims of landlords against the Polish state, as they expect to get the compensation after Hutten-Czapska is decided. So, it's becoming big business.

Q: How are you paid for your work?

A: I practically did the first two sequences of complaints for free. Now a fee covering the costs is being collected. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on this case, even though it hasn’t yet opened, because I have to be in constant touch with all the landlords. Have you ever tried to send 4,500 e-mails?

Q: Have you already won some cases in Strasbourg?

A: I’ve won around seven. I’ve practically privatized the court.