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Real Estate

Renovating Your Apartment
John Bonar

New Year, new beginnings, and where better to start than in your surroundings. You want to change the way your apartment looks. Maybe, in pursuit of wealth creation, you bought an old dilapidated city centre apartment where the potential capital value appreciation far exceeds the renovation outlay, or perhaps you have a legally — registered long-term lease. In any case, you want to fundamentally change the layout and the internal appearance.

The very first step is to get a specification prepared. In Russia there are specialists, known as ‘smitchik’, who only produce quotation documents, breaking the job down to the various tasks. Part of this will include a plan which may be a simple sketch or a fullfledged design plan. Then you invite quotations.

“This allows you to compare like with like, not be measuring apples against oranges,” says Guy Eames, director of MosProperty Agency, which specializes in guiding expats through the selection and purchase of property and obtaining renovation permissions.

It is probably wise at this stage to co-ordinate this activity with the person or agency who is going to process your permissions for the re-planning with the Bureau of Technical Inventory (BTI). Permission for any major and even minor renovations (apart form purely cosmetic decorating) is essential. Ignoring it will lay you open to all sorts of problems in the future, including if you want to sell, or you will have to restore the apartment to its original layout if you are giving up the lease.

There are a whole set of regulations concerning re-planning and repair work, many of them newly brought into law with the new housing code of 2005. The process in reality is simple. You will need the BTI floor-plan for the flat. Check that it is recent, and most importantly it shows where the thick supporting walls are, and if any illegal changes have been made, and spotted – those are the red lines.

Altering supporting walls, even making niches in them, doorways; and so on, is possible, but by it’s nature dangerous (they support the whole building!). They require special permissions, engineering plans to reinforce them, etc.

Non-supporting walls or so-called “partitions” can be moved with permission.

Since Soviet times the space is divided between “living” and “non-living”. This is crucial for the possibilities of moving kitchen/bathroom areas. “Living”, surprisingly enough, are rooms one could sleep in (not bathroom, toilet, hall, kitchen, balcony, these are ‘non-living’). As a rule of thumb, it is possible to move kitchens/bathroom only within the non-living space – the logic being that you could flood someone’s bedroom below.

With the advent of the new housing code, permissions have been driven into two camps – the so-called “simple” ones (involving minor changes to partitions, knocking bathroom & loo into one and the like) and the “complicated” ones.

In reality you will need someone who knows the system to apply for a “simple” permission. The more complicated ones need to be drawn up by a draughtsman, with a technical survey and several “expert” opinions.

With permissions in hand after two to eight weeks, you are ready to start work, but bear in mind that there will probably be plenty of visits from various state officials. If until now your relationship with state officials was limited to airport immigration and traffic cops, then a completely new experience awaits you. How complicated it gets depends on how professional your contractor is, and how much involved you are.

Cardinal survival rule number one is keep on the good side of your neighbours.

You will be living next door to them for some time to come and they can seriously hinder you by writing complaint letters and calling the polic. Be nice. You are going to be creating a huge disturbance for them. Noise and dust, muddy staircases, the front door of the building being kept open, rubbish skips appearing very early in the morning.

Guy Eames’ handy list of do’s and dont’s is based on his practical experience of renovating his own apartment in an old building:

Befriend your neighbors BEFORE you start, taking a present to ensure they know you have planned everything by the law.

Get your builders to wash down the staircase at LEAST once a day – they hate it, but you need it! Otherwise pay the local cleaning lady to do it.

Observe the “quiet” times – evenings, weekends. Check if neighbours have children who sleep in the afternoon.

Stick to your rights and don’t start handing out money – that’s your builder’s job! Show everyone your permissions.

You are not obliged to let everyone into the flat who rings on the door – get them to talk to your permissions’ person. They are usually looking for extra evidence of violations. Private property rights are much more serious than a few years ago.

Agree with your builder in advance who deals with these people. Bear in mind that a red flag to the authorities are immigrant workers without work permits.

Police are not responsible for checking how you are building – only for breaches of public order. Feel free to politely remind them of this fact. Remember though, that you may need their help in the future – when your neighbours start their renovation!

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