Strezovski and others v North Macedonia (App. Nos. 14460/16 and others) might not seem immediately relevant to readers. After all, housing law in North Macedonia is, I think we can safely say, quite different to England or Wales. But district heating systems are a source of tension between local authorities and RTB leaseholders and so I think it’s worth a note on this case.
The applicants all lived in flats in buildings which had district heating systems. Their flats did not benefit from the DHS (either because they were not connected to the system when built or had come off it at some later date). They did not get a charge from the DHS for their own heating and hot water but did get a fixed charge to reflect the fact that the building received benefits from a DHS (even if their flats did not).
As you might imagine, the applicants were rather miffed at this. They were paying a charge a system which did not benefit them. So they challenged the domestic law in the courts. Their claim failed. The domestic courts reasoned that, although they did not receive any direct benefit, they nonetheless received an indirect benefit from heat provided to other flats in the building.
The applicants alleged that this charge was a violation of their rights under Art.1, Protocol No.1 (peaceful enjoyment of possessions) and, slightly to my surprise, the ECtHR agreed. It was common ground that the imposition of a charge amounted to an interference with the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. It was also clear that the interference was permitted in domestic law and that there was a wider public interest being pursued in ensuring that a DHS could provide a safe, secure and efficient heat supply.
The real issue was whether it was proportionate to require these applicants to pay the charges. The domestic courts had not engaged in any consideration of the individual circumstances. Indeed, there was no analysis of the degree to which the applicants actually received any indirect benefit; the domestic courts had just accepted that this was the case. There needed to be some analysis – an “objective assessment” – of that indirect use in each case and the failure of the domestic law or courts to do so meant that there was a violation of A1 P1.