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Foreign Media Fret Over Big Rent Hike

Many of Moscow’s foreign media are worrying about rising costs after the Foreign Ministry’s property department notified them that rental rates would go up sharply next year.

The notices, sent by e-mail last week, declared that the hike would be by 50 percent to 100 percent, foreign media representatives said Monday.

“We were told to pay 70 percent more, and there was absolutely no reason given. It was just shocking,” the bureau chief of a major European news organization told The Moscow Times, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

He said the notice had not been totally unexpected since other tenants had been hit by such hikes before. Yet he said now was “the worst possible time — in the middle of a crisis where we see that rent is going down everywhere.”

The property department, more commonly known by its Russian acronym UPDK, rents out apartments in more than 20 addresses in Moscow and manages about 1 million square meters of office and apartment space, according to its web site, Updk.ru.

Many of its tenants are foreign diplomats and foreign media, which under Soviet restrictions had little choice but to rent UPDK premises.

After the Soviet breakup, UPDK remained popular because its rents often were below market rates, and some organizations said they paid about $240 per square meter per year.

“We are getting a bargain here and hope to continue that,” said another Western bureau chief, speaking on condition of anonymity as to not jeopardize his bargaining position.

Most tenants said Monday that they suspected that the property department was under pressure to increase income after state revenues had been dented by the crisis.

While foreign media representatives interviewed for this article said they did not suspect that any political motives were behind the rent hikes, political pressure has been reported before. A German correspondent said he was gently asked to write more favorably about Russia during rent negotiations in 2006 and 2007. After this, his rent was effectively increased by 100 percent over the course of more than 12 months, the correspondent said Monday, requesting anonymity because he feared being targeted by another rent hike.

A woman who answered the phone at the property department said nobody was available for comment immediately. She added that the department was planning a hearing with foreign media representatives, organized in the Foreign Correspondents’ Association.

The association’s president, Adib Al-Sayed, said he hoped a solution would be found, citing many years of “constructive cooperation” with the property department. “We have negotiated with UPDK successfully in the past and hope to reach an agreement that pleases both sides this time, especially with regard to the fact that many media organizations had to shorten budgets because of the financial crisis,” Al-Sayed said.

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