Magnusson provides pro bono legal support to inhabitants of residential building after gas explosion

Residents of the Melnsila iela 2 residental building destroyed by a gas explosion have decided to sue Riga City Council in court says Magnusson Latvia Senior Associate Māris Smilga, who represents the residents’ interests.

During the night of 31st December 2020, a three-story residential building at Melnsila iela 2, located at Āgenskalns district in Riga, partially collapsed after a gas explosion. The owners of the apartments have agreed to file a civil case lawsuit against Riga City Council.

Upon arrival at the address, firefighters found that the second and third floors and roof structures of the partially collapsed building were on fire. One person was killed and six injured due to explosion and subsequent fire.

On 31 December 2020, the President of the Riga City Council, Mārtiņš Staķis, confirmed that the apartment belonging to the municipality was located in the part of the building that collapsed in the explosion and was occupied by a client of the social service of Riga.

Māris Smilga has in his possession a report of the State Fire and Rescue Service, dated 26 February 2021, which point to the place where the propane gas explosion occurred. It was apartment No. 9 on the 3rd floor of the building. This apartment belongs to the Riga City Municipality.

The decision to bring a civil action against the City Council was formally taken by the apartment owners several months ago, but it was initially decided to try to reach an out-of-court settlement with the municipality, but this has not been successful. The claim of the residents will be for the Riga City Council to rebuild the building in the same condition and appearance as it was before the explosion. In this legal proceeding, Riga City Council is no different from any other person – the owner of an apartment – because when it rents out apartments, it is acting in the sphere of private law, according to Māris Smilga.

Māris Smilga explained that claims for other damages against the Riga City Council may be brought later, as every owner of an apartment located in the residental building has suffered damages. The damages include both the property damaged as a direct result of the explosion and the subsequent fire, as well as the costs of renting the accommodation since the event, as the building is uninhabitable, and other related costs.

The building’s manager, Rīgas namu pārvaldnieks, has charged €9,000 for the conservation project alone. “At the moment, there is a protective fabric cover over the building, which cost about €30 000,” Māris Smilga explained.

According to the Law on Residental Properties, the owner of an apartment is obliged to treat the common property with care, to respect the rules of its use and the requirements laid down by the legislation, so as not to cause harm to the safety and health of others, and to ensure that these rules and requirements are respected by the persons living in their apartment. The owner of the apartment is also liable for damages caused to other apartment owners or other persons in accordance with the procedure set out in the laws and regulations, decisions of the community of apartment owners or mutually concluded agreements, the law states.

The Riga City Council, in its long correspondence with the residents’ representative, has consistently stated that “there is currently no legal basis for assessing the issues of damage and compensation”, and does not admit its responsibility in what has happened.

Māris Smilga also refers to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Zolitūde tragedy case, which inter alia concluded that in the case of the placement of hazardous equipment or hazardous substances, including gas, on the premises, fault need not be proved individually, as “it is presumed”.