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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Housing Conflict Only Monarch Can Resolve

ST. PETERSBURG -- I've noticed that people who are waiting to get new apartments from the city usually start going mad after about the second or third year of futile attempts. Unfortunately, this is just the way the system works in a city where many thousands of residents still live in communal apartments and the budget is being pulled in a thousand different, but all urgent, directions.

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I got a call from one such person last week. This man's father had signed a gentleman's agreement with a European consulate six years ago under which the man gave the consulate two rooms of his three-room, city-owned apartment. In exchange, the consulate agreed to give him some money and to buy him two one-room apartments elsewhere in the city. Apparently, the consulate's ultimate plan was to get the use of the entire apartment, which is located near the consulate itself, and to turn it into a residence for the consul general.

Six years later, the dispute continues. The father's case has been taken up by the son, who insists that the consulate has not lived up to its obligations.

So, I dutifully called the city administration, where I learned that the authorities were perfectly familiar with this man's case. In fact, the Foreign Ministry also knew the facts of the case by heart and has been involved for more than a year.

Karolis Kulkinas, the City Hall external affairs committee member overseeing this case on behalf of the city, told me that the consulate had offered this man about five different places to move during the six years of the dispute, but the man's wife didn't like any of the options and was holding out for something better.

"The consulate has violated the rights of people who live here, and if things keep going this way there's going to be another Serbia here soon!" the man told me over the phone. The man tried to convince me that a well-timed article might help avoid a Balkan-style international crisis.

But perhaps more importantly, the authorities convinced me that the system is working in this case -- slowly, perhaps, but working. The consul general has written to his Foreign Ministry asking for funds to purchase the apartment outright from the city. If the man who lives there waits a couple more months, it is likely the situation will be resolved. If not, he always has the option of going to court if he is so sure that his family is not in the wrong.

However, I think that he really wants to keep on harassing as many officials and media outlets as possible in St. Petersburg and abroad. From talking to him, I am convinced that he won't be happy until the queen of this country herself comes to St. Petersburg to hand him the key to his new castle.

Vladimir Kovalyev is a reporter for The St. Petersburg Times.