Sochi property owners fear state takeover

The Russian government is about to adopt what it calls an “Olympic Law” to oversee the development of Sochi, following the city's successful bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Speaking at a meeting with the National Sport and Culture Committee, the Russian President warned time is in short supply for the 2014 winter Olympics:

“We need to create a convenient mountain resort popular among Russian citizens and tourists from all over the world. I would like to warn that we don’t have much time. Taking into account the scale of this task, we are pushed for time,” he said.

But as major construction starts, some residents are afraid the new law will render them helpless in protecting their homes.

As house owners inspect their eviction notices, they say they've been told by authorities to get ownership documents drawn up. But they fear this process won't be straight forward and their houses will just be torn down.

“I asked the developers why our street was marked for construction, because authorities were saying they will not pull down any residential houses. They said”: No, this cannot be true, no one lives there, and accused me of lying,"  Natalya Kalinovskaya, property owner.

Once the Olympic law has been approved then land identified for construction in the Sochi region will be valued at market prices. And the owners will be offered financial compensation, alternative plots of land, or new housing.

But lawyers say the new Olympic law could severely affect property owners' rights.

“It will mean that people no longer have the right to question the validity of their home being taken over by the state. They will only be allowed to complain about the amount of compensation they receive” says Konstantin Ryndin, lawyer, Moscow.

According to law experts, this new legislation will reduce the amount of time allowed for negotiating compensation from one year to just three months.

It will also mean the government would not be required to notify the property owner in person if they wished to confiscate private land. Instead an announcement in the media would be sufficient.

But those officials who drafted the Olympic Law say they have land owners' interests at heart.

They say that they are not going to deviate from the current rules and will fully observe  the rights of the people, and  at the same time make the procedure quick enough to be in time for the Olympics.

And President Putin is keen to win the hearts of Sochi residents. In recent talks with the governor of Krasnodar, Alexander Tkachov, Putin pressed local authorities to work closely with land owners to gain their trust.

But for some it's too late. Protesters are accusing the government of foul-play and fear the legislation would practically strip people of their constitutional right to court protection on land matters.