Public debate on the Rail Baltic project has mostly focused on compensation for damage to the owners and other users of immovable property. SORAINEN and CentAR Center for Applied Research have prepared a survey on the issue, available here (in Estonian).

Under applicable law, a person may claim compensation for lawful damages in three distinct situations: if the law sets an obligation to compensate for damage; in the case of expropriation; and in the case of extreme restriction of a person’s rights.

The law is sufficiently clear for cases where the route passes over a person’s land or part of it. In this case, a person may claim compensation for damage or negotiate some other form of compensation. However, compensation is not automatic and each case will be reviewed individually, having regard to the location, value, condition and other characteristics of the property. Compensation may also be non-financial. Indeed, administrative bodies are legally permitted to conclude almost any agreement within the boundaries of applicable law. Thus, they may negotiate a purchase price for which the owner is willing to sell the land, or agree or decide upon other compensation schemes. These may include, for example, agreements for land exchange or for planting of vegetation. However, the analysis showed that even if applicable law allows for solutions such as re-allotment, this will be highly unlikely in practice as the relevant provisions are inflexible.

The public debate on Rail Baltic has also addressed additional damage to be compensated. For example, the state should compensate for damage relating to a landowner’s new and longer routes of transportation or other changes in living or business arrangements. Currently, though, applicable provisions do not usually set compensation in these cases. Although the law does refer to fair compensation, existing real estate valuation methods do not always cover setting a level of compensation accepted as “fair” by all concerned. In any case, a right to claim cannot be ruled out completely. In legal terms, applicable law also provides a right of claim in cases of extreme restriction of a person’s rights.

The conclusions of the survey also pointed to other gaps in the legal framework for acquisition of and compensation for immovable property. Relevant proposals will be further analysed in ministerial working groups. The rules and regulations applicable to some compensation measures could thus be simplified in the future.