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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Your Home, But No Longer Your Castle

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Moscow police officers and court bailiffs may soon be given the power to enter an apartment without the owner's permission and when no one is home. In all likelihood, judges will also be required to act on applications from building inspectors concerning allegations of illegal renovation work on people's homes. These are some of the changes contained in proposed amendments to the Moscow Civil and Residential codes and to municipal laws to be considered by the Moscow City Duma.

Current laws only allow police officers to enter a home without the owner's permission when searching for a criminal or if a judge has issued a search or arrest warrant. But according to City Duma Deputy Valery Skobinov, a United Russia member and the author of the amendments, these limits are a major obstacle to battling illegal apartment renovation, which is a threat to buildings and their residents. Skobinov says apartment owners ignore complaints from neighbors and bar inspectors from investigating work they are doing unless they have a warrant. The two or three months it takes for a judge to hear complaints can lead to the injury or death of hundreds of people. Skobinov further argues that the amendment does not contravene Article 25 of the Constitution or Article 3 of the Residential Code, both of which guarantee the inviolability of a person's home.

There is no question that renovation work can be dangerous, but will the initiative really help prevent the destruction of weight-bearing walls or the installation of Jacuzzis? The level of illegal remodeling has already fallen with the simplification of permit granting procedures in 2005. According to data from the Moscow residential building inspectorate, "one window" service allowed for 14,546 permits to be handed out in 2005, and the number climbed to 17,262 in 2006.

Figuring out whether illegal work is taking place shouldn't be tough: The building inspectorate maintains a permit database of permits and can easily ascertain whether a project is legal. If not, according to the inspectorate, the simple filing of a complaint can force the owner of an apartment to cease, with eviction as one penalty for noncompliance.

The proposed amendments will increase the risk that police will be dragged into petty squabbles among neighbors, who aren't always able to distinguish the din of a jackhammer from the drill you need to hang wall shelves in most Moscow apartments. Given the propensity for creative interpretations of the law characteristic of Moscow law enforcement agencies, we can expect a spike in attempts to break into apartments.

The inviolability of their homes is one of the most basic and important rights for Russians. According to a survey by the Levada Center, 52 percent of all respondents labeled it vital, behind only the right to life and to state-provided social benefits.

This appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.