A gang of apartment raiders terrorized St. Petersburg for years
Raider takeover is associated with big business. And raiders – with professional swindlers, bandits or dishonest former business partners. However, the specialists of the Center for Counteracting Raiding are confident: raiders appear where there is property and there are no firm guarantees of its protection. History in St. Petersburg has shown that apartment raiders can seize even the most budget apartments, and in order to appropriate someone else’s living space in full, they just need to buy at least 5 square meters in it. Counterfeit documents, courts, death threats, blackmail and sophisticated abuse of owners are used in the process.
On August 14, in St. Petersburg, a sentence was passed to a gang of swindlers who were seizing apartments. Two organizers of the criminal scheme received 4.5 and 5 years in a general regime colony. An amazingly mild sentence for people who, from 2010 to 2017, literally terrorized hundreds of owners of St. Petersburg apartments, expelling tenants from them in various ways.
The scammers had a proven scheme: on the real estate website, they found and bought disputed shares in apartments. Having got the square meters, they tried to persuade the other owners to sell their part or the whole apartment and divide the money. The dissenters were in for unpleasant surprises in the form of changing locks and damage to property. Fraudsters exerted psychological pressure on residents, threatening to populate the ransomed shares with strangers, and sometimes they used physical violence.
Another significant case involving criminal realtors was the trial of a former St. Petersburg policeman who killed six people in order to take possession of three apartments. He did not manage to sell them – so, his colleagues became interested in him. In 2019, the organizer of a criminal group went to serve a life sentence.
Usually these types of realtors do not act so rudely and prefer not to kill and maim, but to take property in more cunning ways. Lonely old people or former orphans with no one to protect them, alcoholics and drug addicts, or simply naive, legally illiterate people most often become victims of apartment raiders.
Fraudsters often receive information about their victims from informants from housing offices or the police. Some are not lazy to go around apartments and ask neighbors, which of the tenants has not been home for a long time. Identification marks are placed on the doors of empty apartments, which will help to understand whether the owners have appeared. And if the apartment has not been visited for a long time, its door is simply opened, everything valuable is taken out of the apartment, and the living space itself is sold under fake documents. When the owner returns and finds new tenants in his apartment, he will sue them – and the scammers are gone.
A criminal realtor may be a real estate agent, for whom his 5% of the transaction is not enough. Such criminals can take hold of their client’s money and hide with them, or put them in a car and start intimidating with murder in order to lure the funds received for the sale of the apartment. Some “agents” draw up a sales contract in such a way that they themselves become homeowners. They count on the legal ignorance of their victims and their unwillingness to read the documents carefully. Often they are helped by accomplices-notaries.
Apartment raiders can buy out a very small share in a tasty communal apartment in the city center. Having occupied their territory, they can smoke out the rest of the residents, for example, breaking a bathroom, disabling a gas pipeline or a water supply system, adding brawlers, homeless people or drug addicts to the purchased territory. They can change the locks and simply not let the other owners into the apartment. So they force them to sell the remaining square meters for a pittance, which they will then attach for a better price.
The most resonant cases of apartment owners’ murders, fortunately, are not the most common. Most often, ordinary fraudsters get off with insignificant terms, conditional imprisonment or completely avoid punishment, because the victims themselves transfer their property to them, and the documents are legally correct. And the victims of the raiders, once on the street, can no longer defend their rights and seek protection: they are old, sick and lonely, end up in hospitals and boarding schools, they have problems with alcohol or drugs.
Classic business raiders and these realtors have a lot in common. Their goal is this: to take possession of a part in any way in order to seize the whole, to force it to sell by deception or threats, to break down the doors and enter the object in order to intimidate the owners and those who came to their aid. And if even Russian billionaires find themselves defenseless before this problem, then the prospects of their poor fellow citizens in the conditions of frequent inaction of law enforcement officers look even less optimistic.
Anti-raider laws have not been adopted in Russia, and the very concept of raiding is not yet legally defined. In the absence of grave and especially grave crimes, the security forces either find themselves unable to determine where the conflict of owners is taking place, and where the deliberate seizure of someone else’s property is taking place, or they are forced to ignore the criminal intent and initiate criminal proceedings on the basis of obvious signs of light crimes. These factors do not allow to combine similar cases, raise their investigation to higher levels and conduct an investigation on a serious basis with the involvement of experienced operatives.
The Center for Combating Raiding believes that the problem of ineffectiveness of the agencies could be solved, for example, with the emergence of the so-called “private police” institution. In the United States, such powers are essentially vested in private detective agencies. Detectives there have broad rights: carrying weapons, the right to access some personal data of citizens, surveillance and self-transfer of investigation materials to the police, prosecutor or court.