The Streetlawyer Association (SLA) turned to the government office responsible for the legal oversight of the municipalities in vain, since according to the Pest County Government Office, it is not a problem that the municipality broke the law – numerous times. In fact, the government office itself gave a response past the legally required deadline.
Anyone can make a submission in the public interest who feels that addressing that problem serves the interest of the community or the whole society. Using this legal opportunity, the SLA turned to the Pest County Government Office with its submission. In this we objected to the fact that Ócsa Municipality decided to raise rent for public housing tenants in a closed session, without conducting the required public consultation.
According to the Housing act, in case municipalities want to amend the local decree on housing they must first ask for the opinion of the advocacy or representation groups of local tenants and landlords. Beyond that the municipality has to make the planned amendment public in an announcement. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that the interests of municipal public housing tenants are given a voice before the municipality makes a decision about their fate.
Decree amendment behind closed doors?
The law does not only obligate municipalities to consult those affected in advance. The Municipal act also stipulates that the meetings of municipal councillors should be public. According to the law, only in exceptional cases, that are explicitly listed in the law, can a municipality make a decision at a closed meeting. In the case of a rent raise the Municipal act does not allow for a closed council meeting.
The Supreme Court stressed the exceptionality of a closed meeting earlier:
„(the) practice of public power, within that the public practice of the local power is the basis of democratic functioning, and one of the pivotal points of the functioning of the rule of law. (…) That is why regarding the local councils the primary rule (…) is the publicity of the council meetings. Publicity on the one hand means the ability to participate at local council meetings, and on the other the possibility to get access to information about what happened or was decided at the meetings.”
The response of government commissioner Richárd Tarnai
According to the government commissioner, there is no problem with the fact that the municipality neglected its obligation of public consultation. He argues that the Constitutional Court said in numerous cases that it is not unconstitutional if public consultation does not take place. We, however, did not make the objection on the basis of the violation of the Fundamental Law, but that of the Housing Act. If the government office finds a violation of the law, then it must call on the municipality to end the violation or the omission.
The response of the government commissioner in connection with the closed council meeting is even more troubling. According to the government office it is sufficient to just release the meeting records to the public after an unlawfully held closed-door council meeting. In other words: if there is a possibility to learn about how local public matters were decided on earlier, that is democatic enough.
Considering this, it is not surprising at all that the government office failed to comply with the legislation regulating its own functioning. According to law, public interest announcements must be responded to within 30 days. And if the response takes longer to process, the announcer must be made aware of this. Our submission arrived at the government office on 26 October 2020, but the office only sent its response on 13 January 2021, well beyond the 30 days’ period.
Fordítás/Translation: Ortutay Gergely, önkéntes/volunteer