Mečiar and Others v. Slovakia (no. 62864/09) Riedel and Others v. Slovakia (nos. 44218/07, 54831/07, 33176/08, and 47150/08)
Both cases concerned the rent-control system in Slovakia.
The applicants in both cases are: 31 Slovak nationals, who live/d in Bratislava, Bánovce, Bebravou, Brezová, Košice and Trenčín (all in Slovakia); two limited liability companies, based in Bratislava; and one religious association, also based in Bratislava. Three of the applicants are now deceased and have been replaced in the proceedings before the Court by their heirs.

The applicants are/were all owners or co-owners of flats that were or still are subject to rent control. On obtaining ownership of the flats, under the relevant legislation, they had to accept that they had to let their flats to tenants while charging no more than the maximum amount of rent fixed by the State; and that they could not terminate the leases, or sell the flats other than to the tenants.

It is in dispute what amount of rent the applicants would be able to receive by letting their flats under free-market conditions and, by extension, what proportion of the market rent the regulated rent represents. In particular, the Government submitted an expert opinion, according to which the regulated rent of the flats possessed by the applicants corresponded to some 14-26% of the market rent in 2010. The applicants, relying on different sources of information – expert opinions, data from the National Association of Real Estate Agencies and information on average rental prices in the press – argued that the regulated rent was disproportionately low compared with similar flats to which the rent-control did not apply. In one application (no. 54831/07), for example, the data suggested that the regulated rent represented some 5-13% of the market rent for comparable flats in the area.
The applicants complained, inter alia, that the rent-control scheme had breached their property rights. They argued in particular that the regulated rent for their flats had been substantially lower than free-market prices for similar flats in the same areas and that they had thus been forced to satisfy the housing needs of other people at their own expense. Moreover, they contended that legislation which had allowed for increases in regulated rent by 20% each year since 2011 had not been sufficient to close the gap between the regulated and the market rent and, in any case, had not addressed the breach of their rights before its enactment. They relied in particular on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property).

There are currently 14 similar applications involving some 200 applicants pending before the Court.

- case of Mečiar and Others:
Inadmissible – to the extent that it concerned the application of the rent-control scheme to the flats indicated in Appendix 2 to the judgment
Violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 – to the extent that it concerned the application of the rent- control scheme to the other flats
Just satisfaction: EUR 1,645,300 for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage (for full details of the sums allocated to the different applicants, see Appendix 3 to the judgment) and EUR 61,574.36 for costs and expenses to the applicants jointly.

- case of Riedel and Others:
Violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1
Just satisfaction: EUR 221,700 for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage (for full details of the sums allocated to the different applicants, see Appendix 6 to the judgment) and EUR 2,700 jointly to the applicants in application no. 54831/07, EUR 1,100 jointly to the applicants in application no. 47150/08, and EUR 2,863.63 jointly to the applicants in application no. 44218/07 for costs and expenses.

***

Sociedad Anónima del Ucieza v. Spain (no. 38963/08), 20.12.16

The applicant company, Sociedad Anónima del Ucieza, is a limited company founded in 1978 under Spanish law, based in Ribas de Campos (Palencia).

The case concerned the company’s ownership claim over religious buildings on a plot of land which had formerly belonged to the Catholic Church and which the company purchased at a public auction.

In July 1978 the company purchased land at Ribas de Campos. The entry in the land register mentioned that a church, a house, a number of norias, a poultry yard and a mill formed an enclave within the plot of land. The land had belonged to the former Premonstratensian monastery of Santa Cruz de la Zarza, which had been part of the Santa Cruz Priory, founded in the 12th century.

In December 1994, the Diocese of Palencia entered in the land register, in its own name, a plot of land comprising a Cistercian-style church, a sacristy and a capitular chamber which had once formed part of the old Premonstratensian monastery of Santa Cruz, and which were located on the land owned, according to the land register, by the applicant company. Even though its name appeared in the register as the owner of the land in question, the applicant company was neither informed of nor asked about this new entry in the register. Having been informed after the event, it submitted complaints to the Diocese, which replied that the property in question had always belonged de facto to the Diocese of Palencia under the Law on the dismantling of church property of 2 September 1841, which excluded churches and cathedrals and their annexes from the dismantling process. The applicant company brought an action against the Diocese of Palencia to declare void the entry made in the land register by the Diocese in 1994 concerning the church and its annexes. The company’s action was dismissed, as was its subsequent appeal. On 14 June 2005 the Supreme Court declared inadmissible an appeal on points of law by the company. The company then lodged an amparo appeal with the Constitutional Court, which on 26 February 2008 declared the appeal inadmissible as lacking any constitutional basis.

Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing), the applicant company submitted that it had been deprived on unduly formalistic grounds of its right of access to an appeal on points of law before the Supreme Court. Relying on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property), it complained that it had been deprived of part of its property in the absence of any public interest and without any compensation on the basis of a law predating the Constitution.

In the judgment on the merits delivered on 4 November 2014 the Court held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing) of the Convention and, by a majority, that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the Convention.

Today’s judgment concerned the question of of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention.

Just satisfaction: EUR 600,000 (pecuniary damage), and EUR 15,600 (non-pecuniary damage)

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