Tallinn's top real estate up for grabs

  • 2006-12-13
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - The ownership of nearly 50 prime location real estate sites in Tallinn remains in limbo due to a dispute over the legitimacy of key pieces of government legislation.

The laws deal with the rights of descendants of so-called German resettlers 's those who left during Soviet occupation in the 1940s 's to reclaim the properties of their ancestors.
The ownership of the properties became uncertain due to a series of legislative changes, political challenges and court hearings that have stretched from 1991 to the present day.

Land owners 's among them Australians and Canadians with Estonian heritage 's must now await a decision from the Supreme Court, which will determine if the most recent changes to the Property Reform Act are constitutional.
On Dec. 4, the Tallinn City Commission, the body charged with resolving land ownership disputes, deferred making any decisions until the legislative limbo was resolved.

"The situation is not clear," a Finance Ministry advisor told The Baltic Times. "In any case, the government must issue some sort of regulations, and those regulations will depend on the decision of the court. The local commissions responsible for the property return also don't know what to do, and are now hesitating to make decisions."
The list of the disputed properties 's 48 in total 's includes some of Tallinn's most high-profile addresses.
Among them are Old Town buildings fronting Raekoja Plats, the Town Hall Square, which would fetch tens of millions of kroons if put to auction.

Given the potential value of the properties, the outcome of the disputes remains a hot topic for the Estonian press.
The muddy legal situation has led at least one property owner to consider suing various branches of the government for compensation for the years of stress and displacement.
The confusion stems from a series of law changes since Estonia regained its independence, prompting former property owners to seek the return of their land.

In the ensuing years, changes were made to the Property Reform Act clause, now known as Paragraph 7 Item 3, which declared that those who left Estonia under a compensation contract with Germany were not entitled to claim their properties back.
The current Parliament had hoped to settle the dispute by approving yet another amendments to the Property Reform Act, which was to come into force on Oct. 12 this year.

However, former President Arnold Ruutel began a new round of uncertainty when he refused to promulgate the Act. As one of his last acts in office, Ruutel decided to send the law to the Supreme Court to assess its constitutional validity.
The outcome of that Supreme Court challenge is expected to be handed down in Feb. 2007.