LVIV – Since Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine on February 24, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people from the east of the country have sought temporary refuge in Ukraine’s west.
While some have passed through Lviv on their way to the Polish border just over 40 miles away, others have sought to stay in Ukraine but find refuge in the country’s west, finding temporary shelter in smaller towns. But, according to Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, some 200,000 internally displaced Ukrainians have decided to stay in the city of lions.
With an increased demand for apartments in Lviv, prices have also gone up, in some cases dramatically.
Mr. Sadovyi called landlords and hotel owners who overcharging residents are marauders. He asked internally displaced people to inform the city council if they experienced such cases.
“A landlord or hotelier who sets an inflated price for an apartment is a looter! Report such cases to the city hotline. We will act as required in wartime. We will check and make the names of the looters public and pass the data to the Security Service of Ukraine,” Mr. Sadovyi said at a recent press conference.
The mayor stressed that rental prices in Lviv should remain at the same level they were during the pre-war period.
“If you came to Lviv, hiding from the bombing and shelling, and want to rent an apartment, and the apartment owner sets you a sky-high price, it’s looting,” Mr. Sadovyi said.
On March 16, Mr. Sadovyi’s office published a list of six landlords who were overcharging their tenants.
“I know that there are many more such complaints on social media. But you must clearly justify your message. Information that an apartment is very expensive is insufficient. It is important to clarify whether the cost of the apartment has increased since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine. But please do not copy unverified information. Do not generalize or call all the inhabitants of the West looters. If there is clear data, then pass it on to us,” Mr. Sadovyi wrote on his Facebook page.
“During the war in Ukraine, a significant proportion of hotel owners keep accommodation prices unchanged or even reduced them. But some entrepreneurs, on the contrary, seek to make money on [the situation],” said Natalia Tabaka, head of the Lviv Regional Military Administration’s Department of Tourism and Resorts.
“Two-room apartments in Lviv cost a thousand dollars (per month). For a day in a hotel, a double room, which used to cost 2,500 hryvnias, now you need to pay 8,000,” Ms. Tabaka said.
Under the circumstances in the apartment rental market, some landlords evict their renters in order to find new tenants who can pay a higher rental rate. Most rent contracts allow landlords to do so when they need to use the flats for their own accommodation or host their family members. But it is often very difficult to prove whether or not that justification is true.
Lesia Pronko is among those who left her rented apartment because of the surprising price increase.
“Since the war began, I have heard several cases of ‘looting’ and could not believe that, when the whole world helps, there are those who can profit from someone else’s misfortune,” said Ms. Pronko, who rented the same apartment for four-and-a-half years. She said she had previously seen no “red flags” from the landlord.
“About a week ago, our landlord called and said he was raising the rent by 50 percent. When asked why such a sharp rise, he replied, ‘a friend advised me to raise the rent because now the demand is high.’ In his view, the reason was not war, but demand,” Ms. Pronko said. “It was outrageous because how can an adult not understand the situation and behave like that?” she said.
Since the search for a new apartment in Lviv now is very difficult, Ms. Pronko proposed a compromise to her landlord: increase the rent gradually – by 10 percent each month until they end up with a price the owner wants. He declined.
“It seemed to us that, in dealing with such people, we were also not respecting ourselves. We were disappointed because, when you work to support the country, donate your savings and everything for the army, in the evenings you go to volunteer at the shelter, where you feed the refugees, you believe in a better world of good people,” Ms. Pronko said.
Now Ms. Pronko is moving out of the apartment where she lived for four-and-a-half years. But she is full of optimism.
“We say goodbye to the apartment, and I believe this is the start of something better because there are 100 good and honest people for every one looter in Lviv. We will definitely write a statement to the city council because justice will come to everyone according to his actions. It is always a matter of time,” Ms. Pronko said.
Valeriy Malinka, a managing partner of Sitalo, a real estate agency, said that rent prices in Lviv grew by 20-30 percent since Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine began on February 24.
Mr. Malinka said he thought the price increases are reasonable. He said nearly half of landlords in Lviv increased their rent prices, but the other half has not.
“When customers do not like the rental price in Lviv, we suggest they consider options outside the city or in other regional centers, but everyone stays in Lviv. In Lutsk, for example, the cost of a one-room apartment is 6,000-8,000 hryvnia ($200-275) per month. Why don’t people want to go there? Why don’t they rent there? They want to be in Lviv; they have such a need. Accordingly, if demand is so high, the price will rise,” Mr. Malinka said.
The real estate expert thinks that in Lviv the rental price is twice as high as in other regional centers in the west. But he says that the situation was the same before the war.
For example, while a two-room apartment in a new building in Lviv costs $500 a month, a similar apartment costs $250-300 in Ivano-Frankivsk.
“The landlord can evict the tenant only in accordance with the contract. Contracts usually specify potential reasons for eviction. The owner must report this within a month. If he does not give a month’s notice, the tenant may not let him into the apartment until the end of the contract. Without the tenant’s permission, no one can go into the apartment under the terms of the contract. And he can go to law enforcement to report illegal entry into the apartment. Another problem is flawed contracts, or, in general, the lack of a lease agreement. Then the rights of tenants, of course, are not protected. Unfortunately, such situations also happen,” Mr. Malinka said.
Olia Padiak is another apartment renter in Lviv who encountered a problem with her landlord after the full-scale war started.
“It was the fourth day of the war when I agreed to host a woman with her son. They were fleeing Kyiv, and I had been staying with my parents since the invasion, so the flat I was renting was empty. Somehow, I was sure my landlord would not mind helping a war refugee,” Ms. Padiak said.
“Imagine my surprise when he called at 9 p.m. the next day and screamed at me to move out immediately. He cared little that these people had no place to go. Similarly, I wasn’t physically capable of moving my life out in one day. No arguments helped, so the lady with her son went to Poland, and I got out of the flat. I don’t know whether he is leasing this flat now for a higher price, but it still seems ridiculous to pack my bags while I could be packing humanitarian aid and I’m losing my home not because of a Russian rocket,” Ms. Padiak said.
But the situation is not all bad; there are also positive cases.
Dmytro Bruso talked about how he helped more than 60 displaced persons while maintaining a good relationship with his landlord.
“When the war started, we didn’t discuss the rental terms with the landlord. We were all panicking when the war started. After three weeks, we had a conversation with him. He called and asked if I was able to pay for the first month of the war, but he hasn’t asked for payment for that month,” Mr. Bruso said.
Mr. Bruso’s landlord didn’t even mention increasing the rent. His new tenants in other buildings pay the same price they paid before the war.
“Landlords are nice guys, very empathetic,” he said.
Mr. Bruso has been hosting displaced people since the first day of the war. More than 30 families spent at least one night in his home over the last two months. He didn’t charge them anything. He said his only rule was that guests clean up after themselves.
“I am not the best chef, so people also cook food for themselves. Sometimes they did their own groceries, but the fridge was always full, so anyone could take what they needed,” Mr. Bruso said.
“There’s a war in our country. Taking money from people who were forcefully displaced is just inhumane. But I don’t judge anyone who does because people have different situations. If you can host someone, you should do that,” he said.
Mr. Bruso believes that the situation with rent prices in Lviv is not catastrophic. Most people who temporarily stayed at his house found an apartment in the city for a reasonable price.
“Yes, they have seen postings of apartments with a huge rent, but after a few days of search, most of them found a place to stay paying the pre-war rent,” Mr. Bruso said.
He said most landlords in Lviv have kept their rental prices at pre-war levels and have not increased them dramatically. And, for anyone who needs to stay in Lviv for a few nights and can’t afford an apartment or a hotel room, Mr. Bruso is always ready to help.