Taking counsel: "Unidentified construction objects" in protected territories

  • 2009-04-22
  • By Vaiva Vaiciulyte [Jurevicius, Balciunas & Bartkus]
Protected territories of the Republic of Lithuania are a very valuable part of the Lithuanian landscape. People who want to live, vacation or even make business from incoming tourists have recently started bringing in wagons, campers and trailers. This brought-in property was tailored for living or recreation, which resulted in a ravaged forest floor, illegally cut vegetation, and other grievances. The explanation is that through this people tried to evade the strict legal requirements applied to construction in protected territories. In order to stop this lawless devastation of nature, a loophole was detected in the legislation 's it was not clear how to treat such new phenomena and what measures to take in fighting them.

In order to bring legal clarity to this phenomenon, the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania presented an explanation that divided these phenomena into two groups: vehicles and structures. The explanation stated that movable objects/equipment (campers, wagons, trailers, etc.) should be considered as vehicles if they:

a) have the required components and systems characteristic of road vehicles (brakes, lighting and light alarm, clutching devices, suspensions) and
b) meet the definition of a trailer.

It was also specified that movable cabins (including beekeepers' wagons, gardeners' wagons, cabins) should be considered as simple/temporary structures if they:
a) do not meet the above description of a vehicle and
b) meet at least one of the following characteristics:
(i) are constructed on the ground (foundations are built, the structure of the object is not set on wheels or not only on wheels, but on stone, metal or other support);
(ii) have an electricity entry, water, waste water and other utility connections;
(iii) staircases, terraces, arbors, etc. are attached or installed.

It should be noted that construction work is performed to create these "structures" (foundations that are not typical of movable objects are built, stationery engineering networks 's electricity, water supply, waste water, etc. 's are connected, extensions are built), which results in digging soil, destroying forest floor, cutting vegetation and doing irrevocable damage to the environment. 

The important fact is that the construction of simple structures is subject to less stringent regulation compared to construction of other structures. When building simple structures on protected territories, it is enough to prepare a simplified project and have it approved by the respective officials according to the set procedures. A construction permit is not required. In order to halt the construction of simple structures tailored for residence or recreation in protected territories, the Technical Regulation of Construction "Simple Structures (Including Temporary Ones)" was amended in August 2008.

This amendment provided for a very important characteristic of simple structures: simple structures may not contain premises for residential or recreational purposes. This prevented abuse of the category of simple structures in setting up the desired recreation or residential dwellings despite the requirements applicable to the construction of structures in protected territories.

Considering the damage to the environment caused by construction work and structures, on Oct. 18 the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania presented an explanation specifying that movable objects (containers, wagons, kiosks, etc.) are attributable to structures if they meet the characteristics of a structure laid down in the Law on Construction 's i.e. they are created by construction work, using construction products and are steadily fixed to the ground. In other words, if a wagon is standing on wheels and has no utilities connections, it is considered as a vehicle and is not subject to the requirements of the Law on Construction and technical regulations of construction.

However, if a wagon is standing on a foundation and not on wheels or stationary utilities are connected to it (electricity, water supply, sewage, etc.), it shall be considered as a simple structure, the construction of which shall be subject to the above-mentioned legislation requirements. If the requirements are ignored, the authorized institutions have the right to apply all measures available to work against the structures in contravention of the legal requirements.

The above legislation amendments and explanations not only precluded residence or vacationing in wagons, campers, etc. under the cover of the simple structures category, but also evasion of the requirements applied to a simple structure under the cover of the vehicles category.

Surprisingly, after finding the measures to "clean" the protected territories infested by the phenomenon of cottages and wagons by using the targeted amendments of legal acts, less than a year later, i.e. in March 2009, the Technical Regulation of Construction "Simple Structures (Including Temporary Ones)" was amended once again: the restriction to set up residential or recreational premises in simple structures was canceled. As the concept of a simple structure was amended, the possibilities of using such a structure for residence or recreation were extended once again, thus opening the door for abuse in the most sensitive spots of Lithuania under the cover of the category of simple structures.

Vaiva Vaiciulyte is a lawyer at Jurevicius, Balciunas & Bartkus, a member of Baltic Legal Solutions, a pan-Baltic integrated legal network of law firms including Glikman & Partnerid in Estonia and Kronbergs & Cukste in Latvia, dedicated to providing a quality "one-stop shop" approach to clients' needs in the Baltics.