|Communal Living in Russia: Photos|
|Bills for the apartment and communal services, one resident's overdue bill. 2003.|
|Basic Facts and Background|
Where: The entryway of a large communal apartment with more than 15 residents, in a prestigious neighborhood in the historical center of St. Petersburg.
What: Mail from the mailbox is usually left in front of the entryway mirror (this old-fashioned mirror, called a pier-glass in English, stands on or is attached to a wooden cabinet). The monthly bills (pink in color), which include the amount owed for rent and utilities, are also laid out here. Here we see the telephone bill and a corner of a page containing payment calculations (most likely for electricity).
When the residents pass by, they pick up their own rent bills, which they pay individually at the savings bank. Whoever is on duty for cleaning common areas is also responsible for calculating everyone's portion of the electric and phone bills, collecting the money, and paying.
The bill for 846 rubles and 46 kopecks (in the middle) is noteworthy for the amount due in rent: 17,341 rubles. The monthly payment is a bit over $30. The total amount due is, however, $640, an extremely large sum, comparable to three months' pay, indicating that it has been 20 months since the tenant last paid for rent or utilities. Until recently, the housing authorities had no real way to take action for non-payment, and judicial cases of forced eviction for non-payment were few and far between. There was no mechanism to enforce this measure provided for by the law. Moreover, eviction would have contradicted the ideology of providing housing in communal apartments for citizens of slender means through the so-called "social rental contract." In the Russian language of today, the adjective "social" is taking on a new meaning: "state-subsidized benefits for the needy." Citizens who do not own their own housing (who have not privatized their room) and whose residency permits show that they have been registered as residing in a communal apartment for a long time, are bound to the state by contract relations—not the usual, commercial type of rental contract, but rather a special "social" contract which is some seven to eight times cheaper than a commercial one.
Current law does not allow a person to be put out on the street, for after all, the tenant in question has a residency permit. Smaller, less comfortable housing arrangements must be provided somewhere else—but where? The authorities' options are limited. Therefore, non-payers are not terribly worried, nor are they concerned that their arrears are covered by those who do pay their utility bills; the housing office accounting department actually figures in an average amount for non-payment when the monthly charges are set.
We note that in this case the non-payer is not the owner of a privatized room, but rather a tenant (as is apparent from the column headed "rental payment," where there are some figures; in the case of property-owners, there are zeroes in this column). Since the room is not his property, he cannot forfeit it for non-payment.