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Homeowner compensated for collapsed property in environmental hazard zone

Dimitar Yordanov v. Bulgaria |2018

Homeowner compensated for collapsed property in environmental hazard zone

. . . the mine, where coal was extracted by means of detonations, represented an environmental hazard . . .

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, December 2018

Background 

The Bulgarian state wanted to seize Dimitar Yordanov’s home to make space for an open-pit coalmine. But when the authorities failed to compensate Dimitar with another plot of land, he managed to get the decision cancelled.

Dimitar and his family were able to stay in their home. Yet with each passing year, the expanding coalpit crept closer and closer to the property. Detonations used in the coal extraction process shook the family home every day. Cracks appeared in the walls. An outside barn and animal pen collapsed. 

The family were eventually forced to leave their home. It had become too dangerous to stay. 

Dimitar took the mining company to court. He wanted compensation for the damage caused to his home. Even though experts found the house to be uninhabitable, and that its close proximity to the coalpit was against the law, the Bulgarian courts dismissed Dimitar’s claims because they were uncertain whether the detonations from the mine had caused the damage. 

Dimitar’s house ultimately collapsed. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found the Bulgarian government responsible for the fact that Dimitar’s home remained in an environmental hazard zone. This was due to the failed expropriation of the house and the work of the mine, which was managed by a state-owned company. This ultimately caused Dimitar to abandon his home with his family, violating his right to property.

The court awarded Dimitar €8,000 in compensation. 

. . . the required buffer area was 500-metre wide. Despite that, the mine operated, conducting daily detonations much closer, at the closest within 160-180 metres [of Dimitar’s home].

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, December 2018

Follow-up 

The compensation awarded by the European court took into account the value of Dimitar’s share in his abandoned property. 

By the time the European court had made its judgment, there were new health and safety rules in force in Bulgaria. Since 2009, these have included updated procedures for the inspection and supervision of projects of public importance at least once a year. Inspections may be prompted by complaints from members of the public.