Updated: Aug 7
The Lutheran parish house in Copşa Mare has been used as a warehouse by its tenants since 2013.
The parish house in Copşa Mare (pictured above, in front of the fortified church), is owned by the Lutheran Church of Romania, and managed by its Mediaș diocese. It is a beautiful building in a magical setting, and with no congregation in the village, its original purpose has been lost.
The tenants of the building - Paolo and Giovanna Bassetti, property developers from Italy who own over a dozen houses in the village - have been renting the property from the church authorities since 2013, presumably in the expectation that they will eventually be able to buy it. They use the former parish house as a warehouse, and very occasionally, as a venue for summer garden parties. The tenants have repaired broken roof tiles, fixed the gutters, and kept the grass cut, but the building has stood empty for the duration of their tenancy, now in its ninth, barren year.
In the summer of 2018, my wife and I submitted an offer to rent the property ourselves when the tenants' second, 3 year lease was due to expire in July 2019. We undertook to invest a minimum of EUR 25,000 and a maximum of EUR 35,000 in the conservation of the building, within the first twelve months of the lease, and to pay EUR 200 a month in rent, in exchange for a 10 year lease of the property. We hoped to establish a school of botanical illustration in the building, and to plant the grounds with the remarkably diverse flora hereabouts. We committed ourselves to making the building suitable for day-time use in the warmer months, as a place of study and creativity. And we found support for our project among prominent botanists and botanical artists with links to Romania.
The quality of our plans for the building and its proposed use counted for nothing with the diocese. It was money that mattered, explained the acting dean, Ulf Ziegler. Our offer to invest up to EUR 35 000 of our own money in the building, and to pay an additional EUR 24 000 in rent over 10 years, was inadequate.
In May 2019, shortly before the lease of the property developers was due to expire, we received a letter, reproduced below, signed by the acting dean. Addressed to us and to Giovanna Bassetti, the existing tenant, the dean explained that the building needed a minimum of EUR 90,000 to make it sound, and that the church would be willing to cover half the cost itself, but only if the new tenant agreed to cover the other half over 5 years, and to pay a further EUR 18,000 in rent over the same period. If these conditions were met, the lease would be extended for another 5 years.
If the building was to be offered for sale when the lease expires after 5 or 10 years, with the incumbent tenant given the first right of refusal, it would make the capital investment required of the tenant a very different proposition indeed. But this is not the case, according to Ulf Ziegler, who stressed that the building is not, and shall never be, for sale.
We considered Ziegler's terms too heavily loaded in favour of his church, and withdrew our offer. Soon after we withdrew, we were told by the dean's colleague that the property developer had agreed in principle to the new terms. Hard to believe, we thought, and if true, not a bad result! Their money, if not their use of the building, is as good as ours, and the building shall get the investment it needs after so many lost years. We had fun putting our project together and made new friends along the way. The money we would have invested in the church's property was used instead to create a school of botanical illustration on our own property.
That was 2019. It is now August 2022, and nothing significant has been done to the building in the intervening three years. New guttering and drain pipes were mounted in 2020, window shutters have been restored, a handful of broken tiles have been replaced on the garden wall, some rotten floorboards replaced, a stable wall repointed, and the grass in the garden cut.
In our estimation, the total amount invested in the property since the summer of 2019 by the tenants, in what is now the third year of their new, 5 year lease, is perhaps as much as EUR 5000.
And so we must conclude, either that Bassettis have EUR 40,000 left to invest in addition to rent in what remains of their third lease in a building they will never own. Or, and this seems much more likely, the dean's conditions that we declined were declined by property developer as well. To remind readers, our offer consisted of a commitment to invest a minimum of EUR 25,000 in the conservation of the building, within the first 12 months of the lease, and to pay EUR 200 a month in rent, in exchange for a 10 year lease of the property.
The time has come for those on behalf of whom Ulf Zeigler manages the property, namely the former Lutheran congregation of Copșa Mare now living mostly in Germany, to press the dean for an explanation of what makes Mr and Mrs Bassetti so much more desirable than ourselves?
If it is money, as we were given to believe, where is it?