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12 Jul, 2007 03:29

Legislation flaw leaves children homeless

The Moscow City Duma is looking into the housing code in order to strengthen social protection of children and divorced spouses. The current wording of the law means family members who have not been written into the title can be evicted.

In Russia, people register the place where they live. Before 2005, everyone registered in a flat would have the right to live there, giving all occupants and not just owner rights for the apartment. But under a law introduced in 2005 to protect owners from marriage swindle this was altered.

However,  the law turned out to be double-edged, leaving spouses not wise enough to have a marriage contract, giving them rights for a significant part of other’s flat – as well as their children – at the owners’ mercy. Larisa Boyko and her children are just few of the hundreds victims of this housing code.

Larisa was married for 20 years before she divorced her husband Sergey in 2000. Their apartment was a joint purchase but was bought in his mother’s name. After the new law was adopted he sold the apartment for a low price to a relative and now Sergey’s new family lives there.

“My grandson and youngest daughter are minors, they took them and threw them out on the street,” Larisa says.

There was a court hearing. The jury ruled that as the apartment was in Sergey’s mother’s name according to the law -“ex-members”- of his family-including his two daughters would be evicted.

Only they had nowhere to go.

“We were kicked out just before the New Year’s holiday and stayed in my friend's one-room apartment. She lives with her husband and child – seven people in one room. She had a sofa bed and arm chairs. Thank God because that’s how we lived for six months,” says Daria, Larisa’s daughter.

They now live at a friend's house in the counrty. No running water, no heat. For now it is summer but come the autumn they have no idea where they’ll live.

As if not having a home wasn’t enough to live with, lack of registration makes it even harder. Daria won’t be able to take her two-year-old son to kindergarten when the time comes and already without registration she can’t take him to a doctor. And  without registration she is unable to vote.

Hundreds of women and children are finding themselves in a similar situation. Svetlana Terekhova has united victims of this law, forming a non-profit organization. She has created a website; she plans protests and writes letters. But so far nothing has helped.

“We are in touch with about 300 victims of this law. The numbers change as some people give up because they feel nothing will ever get done and the situation is hopeless,” Svetlana says.

The Moscow City Duma is trying to help minors who suffer from the law.

“We want to make it obligatory for the owner to sign an agreement with the under-aged members of the family in which they would clarify their rights to occupy this residential area,” explains Aleksandr Krutov, Moscow City Duma deputy.

But in the case of Larisa and her daughters, the youngest of them Vladka, who has just turned 18, nothing will change. Tearfully she says she's gotten over her father’s actions and now has the strength to move on.