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No Solution for Unsecured Vacant Buildings and Construction Sites

The Inspection Department of the city administration is undertaking all proscribed measures in its jurisdiction in order to properly secure all vacant buildings in the City of Novi Sad,  protecting thus  the citizens from danger  of injury or disease they are exposed to when in their vicinity. This claim is the gist of a response of the Construction and the Communal Systems Inspection Sections of the city administration to the Provincial Protector of Citizens - Ombudsman (PPCO)  regarding the measures undertaken in case of the vacant apartment building in 59, Alekse Santica St. in Novi Sad. However, the question is whether these measures are sufficient and what to until the regulations have been changed?

In its response, the Communal Section states that its staff has inspected this building on 9 February. It established that the plumbing had not been installed and connected to the city water supply and sewage system. There are sewage utility holes in from of the buildings with technically functional covers, but the entrances into the basement of the building had not been secured since it is the responsibility of the future tenants. The inspection concluded that it is a private property, so there are no legal grounds to initiate either administrative proceedings or to issue an official order to eliminate these irregularities.

Construction of this building started in 1991. It has still not been finished and construction has not been continuing for years now. The inspection established that there are no cracks in its facade, no pieces are crumbling from it, and stated that there is no danger for the passers-by in this respect. The investor installed wooden planks and barriers at the ground floor entrances and keeps checking and repairing them from time to time. Knowing that the building is frequented by homeless people, the inspection also addressed the police.

From the aspect of authorities having the power to do anything concerning this building, the key fact is that its legalization is in progress. The Legalization Law proscribes that demolition of constructed, fully or partially reconstructed buildings without a proper permit will not be implemented by the day this Law comes in force, namely before all legalization related proceedings have been finished and until consequential rulings have come into force. It means that the construction inspection has no authority to order demolition of such buildings.

There are over 90 vacant buildings and construction sites only within the city limits of Novi Sad. The PPCO holds that local authorities in charge, esp. in urban areas, should find a way to minimize the risks for citizens arising from such buildings and/or to eliminate them. The construction inspection should be done more often in order to establish whether there are unsecured ground-floor or basement entrances into it making the environment around it unsafe. The authorities in charge should also sanction investors and construction companies not undertaking proper security measures in such buildings, their surroundings and neighboring buildings, as well as measures concerning the traffic and environment proscribed by the Urban Planning and Construction Law.

Bearing in mind that the Buildings Legalization Law was passed in November 2013, as well as that the deadline for amending documentation for a later issuing of a construction permit expired on 30 April this year, it is beyond any doubt that the Urbanism and Residence Administration of the City of Novi Sad is bound to officially discard the incomplete legalization request for the building at 59, Aleksa Santic St. in Novi Sad. However, slow administration in this and other similar cases only procrastinates solving problems of citizens living in the vicinity of vacant buildings.

From 2003, when the Planning and Construction Law was passed, to coming into force of the Buildings Legalization Law in 2013, the legislator provided a period long enough for legal settlement of all issues concerning property and buildings to both the local authorities in charge and unconscientious investors, but there was no expected result. The building in question is an example of regulations concerning legalization of buildings constructed without a proper building, aka usage permit not producing positive effects both due to the regulations themselves and inefficient action of the local authorities. These facts prevents the Construction Section action and issuing an order to unconscientious investors to eliminate such buildings, which implies that such a state provides for an environment conducive to (continuing) construction of buildings without necessary permits and other legally required documentation. Legal uncertainty concerning the issue of vacant buildings and construction sites is boosted by the announcements of passing a new Buildings Legalization Law.

The State Administration Law proscribes that public authority holders are liable for all damage resulting from their illegal or irregular work while acting on behalf of any authorities caused to all individuals or legal entities. Concerning the 59, Aleksa Santic St. building, as well as all other unsecured and vacant buildings and construction sites, it is necessary for the City of Novi Sad to undertake all measures proscribed by specific laws in order to find a way to secure these buildings in way that they would no longer jeopardize citizens' health and safety.