Online registration is supposed to make life easy for Moscow residents by automating one of the more frustratingly bureaucratic aspects of city life.
But instead it could plunge homeowners into a complex legal labyrinth – as with a click of a few buttons fraudsters can create fake registrations and claim access to any address in the city.
And while there are safeguards in place to ensure that all registrations are verified with the landlord, many fear that these are inadequate.
The would-be tenant can fill in his or her details on the state registration sites and use that to collect the appropriate stamp in the passport.
And at present the landlord is only due to be notified by email within three days – often too late to launch an effective legal challenge.
St. Petersburg web portal Neva24 has reported several cases of housing fraud in the northern capital, and claimed that lines of unhappy landlords had formed at the city’s passport offices in an effort to sort out the confusion.
Meanwhile Moscow homeowners are also concerned that registration rules could be used against them.
Svetlana (not her real name) is involved in an ownership dispute over an apartment in the city, and says she’s been threatened with fake registrations by her opponent.
“He’s been saying he will illegally register people in our apartment if we don’t give way,” she told The Moscow News.
“With this online system it would be really easy – he could do the whole thing sitting at home, and once someone is registered there it’s really hard to throw them out.
“It hasn’t happened to us yet, but in a situation like this we have to keep checking on the apartment all the time to make sure that nobody is living there who shouldn’t be.”
Meanwhile Svetlana has little confidence that any notification from the authorities would help her family if anyone was illegally registered at the address.
“Someone who is prepared to do that would almost certainly be prepared to pay a bribe to make sure that the notification got overlooked somehow,” she added.
Lawyers fear that while the move to online registration was well-intentioned, it could have serious implications for some.
It is an open secret that personal information is widely available on pirate DVDs, making it easy to get the details needed to set up a fraudulent registration.
And if the notification cannot be contested within that brief three-day window, the implications can be time-consuming and expensive, gzt.ru reported.
“A single visit to the passport office won’t be enough to turn out an unwanted guest if that person is already registered,” warned Igor Chumachenko of Vegas Lex real estate.
“The situation could lead to an increase in criminal cases, and theft from properties – where the owner would have to prove which property was his own.
“It could become absurd: the intent in adopting this law was good but the results could be disastrous.”
However, Federal Migration Service spokesman Konstantin Poltarin told gzt.ru that any problems could be simply resolved, even after that three-day deadline.
“Even if the registration is permanent it does not make you the owner of the property, and without that right someone’s home cannot be invaded,” he said.
However he admitted that if somebody did force their way into a house or flat the landlord would have little choice but to refer to the courts.
Scrap it altogether
Registration has come under the spotlight recently following changes to the rules for expats earlier this year.
After an outcry from business groups, plans to prevent employers from registering their foreign staff were reversed by President Dmitry Medvedev.
And Svetlana is among many who wonder whether registration for Russians or foreigners serves any useful purpose.
“I’d just scrap it altogether,” she concluded. “It just makes life more complicated, and every time they try to simplify the rules it creates more problems.
“Just get rid of it, like a normal country would.”