Put a Stop to Rent Horrors With Lease-Law Weapons

Almost everyone renting an apartment in Moscow has probably experienced or heard one or more horror stories. Generally, they involve tenants being thrown out on a moment's notice or after refusing to pay more rent.

But contrary to popular belief, a lease can be binding -- if the prospective tenant plans ahead, knows the legal playing field and applies the pressure when needed.

The first step in obtaining a legal lease is to find out if the apartment is privatized. A privatized apartment will have either a certificate of privatization or a notarized agreement showing its purchase by its present owners. Apartments which are not privatized should not be leased.

After establishing that the apartment is privatized, it is critical to find out who owns it and who has the right to live there. The names of the owners will be on the privatization certificate or in the agreement.

Finding who has the right to live in the apartment is a little more complicated. Every apartment building has a register of who has the legal right to live in each apartment. Tenants should always demand from their potential landlord an official excerpt from this register showing every person who has the right to live in the apartment.

If any of the owners or legal occupants are minors, the landlord must get a letter from the local Sovet po Opeke i Popechitelstvu, or Guardianship Council. This document should state that the local authorities have permitted the guardians of the children to let the apartment on their behalf.

The next step is to have the landlord provide another document -- a Spravka 11-A -- from the Bureau of Technical Inventory. This will indicate whether there are any claims, or encumbrances, on the apartment.

If all of these documents can be produced, if no problems have arisen to sully the prospective deal, and if all of the owners and legal occupants are willing to sign a lease, the tenant's next task is to find a notary. At this point, the tenant has two choices.

In the first variant available to tenants, the notary uses his or her knowledge as a lawyer to verify that the terms of the lease are legal, then witnesses the signing. The fee for this service can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

A notary can also be used just to witness the signing of a lease, in which case the fee is just a few thousand rubles per signatory. If you know your lease is legal, the second option may be a better choice.

It is important to get the notary to approve the text of the lease in advance. This is best done without the landlords. Once both the notary and the landlords approve the final text, all of the owners, occupants and soon-to-be tenants should go with all the above listed documents to the notary for signing.

At the end of this process the tenant will have a binding lease. Perhaps more importantly, the landlords are likely to be so intimidated by the legal formalities of the event that thought of breaking the lease will never be raised. This in itself is worth as much as the law behind the lease.

Jamison Firestone is a partner at Firestone Duncan & Associates.

Maps include projects due to open in the next six months, those which opened in the past six months, and those which are older than six months but still leasing space.

Asking prices are given in annual cost per square meter. Additional expenses such as parking or fit-out construction are not included.

Size includes total office space, and does not include open areas.

Sources: DTZ International, Elbert Ltd.,Haskell International Brokers, Kolb Levins, Noble Gibbons, Parus Business Center, S&T Handels GmbH, Spectrum Properties, Zenith Centre