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Apartments and Suites – Tearing City and Developers Apart

Apartments and Suites – Tearing City and Developers Apart

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In recent years, the Slovak Real Estate market has experienced significant growth thanks to extensive construction, especially in the capital, Bratislava. This is mainly due to the high demand for apartments, which is also reflected in their price.

The current zoning plan of Bratislava, which was adopted in 2007, stipulates the functional use of different city areas. In principle, apartments can be constructed in areas defined as residential, civic amenities, and mixed areas of housing and civic amenities. In residential areas, the share of housing must account for at least 70% of the total floor area. In the mixed areas of housing and civic amenities, the share of apartments cannot exceed 70%, and in areas of civic amenities the share of apartments must not exceed 30%.

Due to the lack of available land for housing development, developers look to extend the construction of residential buildings or multifunctional buildings with a prevalence of housing units for sale to such places where further housing development is not allowed. They try to do this without the need to amend the zoning plan.

Where You Cannot Build apartments, You Build Suites

Still more development projects use the layout of residential and non-residential premises only to pay lip service to the regulations. For example, in areas with civic amenities, developers design such projects so that only 30% of the area is made up of apartments and the rest is non-residential premises. However, most of these non-residential premises fulfill the function of civic amenities only formally. In fact, they are so-called “suites” – premises meant for temporary or seasonal housing.

The Slovak law differentiates between apartments, non-residential premises, and suites. While the former two are clearly defined by the law and are usually not confused, a suite is situated somewhere in between According to the law, a suite is a set of rooms intended for the accommodation of guests, to which the legislation imposes lower construction standards than for apartments, such as lower daylight for living rooms, higher noise limits, or a lower number of required parking spaces. This is because suites are designed for temporary or seasonal housing, and their primary purpose is a short-term stay. By including suites in a development project, even those parts of a building that do not comply with the statutory constructional or hygienic parameters required for apartments are made available for housing. Also, by applying these practices, developers introduce housing to areas where it is not permitted according to the zoning plan. Subsequently, these suites are sold to the customers in the same way as apartments.

From the point of view of the zoning plan, suites – formally being classified as non-residential premises – are not considered to be residential buildings, but civic amenities. Thus, some developers have managed to stay within the above-mentioned thresholds of housing in civic amenities areas or in mixed areas, although in fact they build and sell suites for housing. Because of mass construction Bratislava suffers from high population density, while the lack of real civic amenities such as kindergartens, sports facilities, and transport infrastructure is more and more noticeable.

New Governance, New Approach

In December 2018, the new City management declared its clear disapproval of construction which circumvents the zoning plan. The City of Bratislava has already issued several negative opinions refusing to recognize suites – which are de facto used as apartments – as civic amenities. In this way, the City insists on adherence to the approved zoning plan. The City does not intend to tolerate hiding apartments as suites and thus letting developers’ uncontrolled games with the zoning plan continue. At the same time, the City will insist that civic amenities for public benefit be constructed, depending on the needs of particular areas.

Also, the City is aware that, in certain areas, the threshold for civic amenities could be set at a lower rate, provided that this would comply with public interest. The new zoning plan should therefore reflect the needs of citizens and could also adjust the requirements for civic amenities. Taylor Wessing is the legal advisor of Bratislava’s new Mayor, and we understand and share this progressive approach.

By Silvia Hlavackova, Partner, and Ondrej Skvarka, Associate, Taylor Wessing Slovakia

This Article was originally published in Issue 6.11 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.