Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Because of This Law, I've Become Homeless'

For MTTyazhelova lives with her mother and son in a friend's one-room apartment.
Lidia Gaidar fought back tears as she told how she had come home from work last month and found the lock had been changed on the door of the apartment where she had lived for 13 years.

Gaidar and her husband divorced in 1998 but still lived together. Then he abruptly decided to kick her out -- and there was nothing she could do about it.

"Because of this new Housing Code, I've become a homeless person," said Gaidar, 49.

Gaidar is among hundreds of people in Moscow who have found themselves out on the street under the 2005 code, which allows homeowners to evict estranged family members through court or the sale of the home.

While the law might sound logical to Western ears, the issue is not as simple as the protection of homeowners' rights. Eviction can mean not only having to find a new place to live, but also the loss of free health care, free public education and the right to work in Moscow.

Amid a growing public outcry, the State Duma is to consider in a first reading Friday an amendment that would bar the eviction of minors.

At issue is Article 31 of the Housing Code, which says a homeowner can evict family members after a divorce. The law allows children born to the couple to be classified as "former children" if they live with the evicted parent.

For MT
Lidia Gaidar
Natalya Fyodorova, who was thrown out by an abusive former husband when she was pregnant with their son, says that is not fair. No court had ordered her eviction when she left, but she said did not have the strength to fight her ex-husband. The pregnancy was difficult, and she spent much of her pregnancy in the hospital anyway.

By the time her son, Bogdan, was born, she had been evicted by a court. Fyodorova and her son now live with a relative. Under the law, her son lost his right to be registered at his father's apartment because he lives with her.

"This law was passed in order to destroy families," Fyodorova said.

Court rulings that allow minors to be evicted by labeling them "former children" are illegal and contradict the Family and Civil codes, said Pavel Krasheninnikov, the chairman of the Duma's Legislation Committee who drafted the amendment that comes up for a vote Friday and helped write the Housing Code.

"When they say that the Housing Code allows the eviction of minors, it's a lie," Krasheninnikov said by telephone. "It is just being interpreted incorrectly, and we need to work this out."

The Housing Code in combination with Article 292 of the Civil Code also allows the owner to sell the home while the former spouse and children are still registered residents. The new owner can then evict them on the grounds that they are not members of his family.

This is in stark contrast to the old 1983 Housing Code, which forbade the owner from evicting former relatives or selling the home without their consent, effectively guaranteeing all people a place to live.

Police threw Darya Tyazhelova, together with her baby son, 17-year-old sister and mother out of the apartment where she had lived for more than a decade last New Year's Eve.

A court ordered the eviction because the ownership of the apartment had changed hands. Tyazhelova's stepfather had sold the apartment to a niece, and she asked the court for the eviction because Tyazhelova's family was not her family.

The family now lives with friends, leaving seven people in a one-room apartment.

The authors of the Housing Code said the main aim was to secure the rights of homeowners, who make up 80 percent of the population.

"Former spouses must be evicted because they are now strangers," said Yelena Getman, a co-author of the Housing Code and a senior official at the Constitutional Court.

"But that does not rule out a marriage contract where spouses can spell out their own terms," she added.

Getman said the Constitution does not guarantee a person's right to live at any particular address.

People who are evicted are reluctant to visit their local passport offices to let police officers put the necessary stamps into their passports showing they no longer are registered Moscow residents. To do so would deprive them of many rights, they said.

Tyazhelova, 27, said her 2-year-old son would not qualify for free medical care at the local children's clinic and would be barred from kindergarten. Her 17-year-old sister would not be able to study or work. Tyazhelova herself, now on maternity leave, would not be able to keep her job or find a new one.

Gaidar, who has held various state jobs over the past 30 years, would face dismissal if her bosses knew she did not have registration. In the month after being locked out of her apartment, she has been renting a room from an alcoholic neighbor.

The Moscow City Court could not say how many people have been evicted since the law came into force on March 1, 2005. A court spokeswoman, Anna Usachyova, said the court's statistics department was temporarily closed for a "reporting period."

The Federal Court Marshals Service, which enforces court rulings, does not keep statistics on evictions, spokesman Stanislav Radchenko said.

But the Victims of the Housing Code advocacy group said more than 300 people have been evicted in Moscow alone.

Forty people, including 35 who were evicted, have complained to ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, said Zinaida Nikolaichuk, head of a department in the ombudsman's office that oversees housing rights.

"Of course there are a lot more people who have been evicted under the new Housing Code. Those 35 are only the ones who came to us after all other attempts failed," she said.

She said there was little she could do to help. "It's impossible to challenge the court decisions because they are legal," she said.