by Stanislava Ciurinskiene; photography by BTA

Aging structures, unscrupulous builders and irresponsible owners have created a homicidal skyline in many Bulgarian cities

39 Alabin St, Sofia

In 2006 a building at 39 Alabin St, in Sofia's centre, collapsed and killed two young women. Surprised such an appalling accident could occur in the 21st Century? That's only the beginning.

Recently, a large chunk of the ceiling fell onto a patient in intensive care at the University Hospital of Plovdiv. Miraculously, the victim survived, suffering "only" a severe concussion. In both cases the official investigations attributed the tragedies to the fact that "the buildings were too old." If a building's age were a legitimate excuse, most of Europe's famous architectural monuments should have crumbled to dust by now.

Over the last few years, accidents like these have been happening far too often in Bulgaria. To prevent more casualties, in 2007 the government began a campaign to identify "killer buildings" in most municipalities. The results were shocking. Altogether, Bulgaria has more than 15,000 high-risk buildings. In Pazardzhik, 50 houses are so obviously dangerous that they need to be demolished as soon as possible. This, however, is not possible because no action can be taken without the owners' written agreement, and at least half of them have left the country permanently.

The city mayor recently declared he was ready to hunt them down using Interpol. Cherven Bryag, a town of 15,000 people, is home to 61 potential concrete murderers. In the Varna region, churches and public bathhouses number among the 556 life-threatening structures. Veliko Tarnovo hosts a whole district of 63 houses which may collapse at any moment and whose owners are unknown.

Unfortunately, the campaign's purpose was more to show the public that the government was doing something after the 39 Alabin St tragedy rather than to prevent future casualties. It was carried out without any serious methodology or a scientific method. The main criteria for identifying a dangerous building were if "it squeaks, looks old and is falling apart." Some mayors simply reviewed old lists of hazardous buildings and republished them. Thousands of potentially treacherous structures remained unidentified.

Fewer than half of the problematic buildings were deemed "too old." Killer buildings are usually due to poor quality or violations of construction codes — very often the two go hand-in-hand.

Paradoxically, poor quality is a rampant childhood disease plaguing post-Soviet architecture rather than the infamous concrete blocks of flats from the 1960s–1980s. The property boom spurred developers to build too fast in order to sell and reinvest in new projects at the expense of quality. Developers, in turn, shift the responsibility onto the municipal bureaucracy and blame the authorities. They argue that if planning permissions were issued faster, they would not be forced to speed up construction. Another method of driving up profits is by minimising the expenses for construction materials.

Due to lack of space, more and more new blocks of flats are built practically glued next to older ones. This recent sandwich-building trend may lead not only to severe claustrophobia but also to far more serious consequences. In the worst-case scenario, the foundations dug for a new building undermine those of its older neighbours. The dangers may not be immediately apparent. An example is an apartment block from the 1980s, located in Sofia's top centre. One morning the inhabitants woke up to find their building cracked almost in half. Municipal authorities inspected the building site and discovered that the contractor had deliberately ignored the permitted parameters when digging the foundations. The private agency monitoring the construction was fined 10,000 leva for "forgetting" to report this serious violation.

Greedy developers are not always to blame. Careless owners have also contributed to the killer buildings issue by doing major renovation without consulting architects or getting municipal permission. They tear down support walls, "utilise" balconies by turning them into bathrooms and reorganise their living space in numerous imaginative if unsound ways. Mini-floods, collapsed ceilings or cracked walls are just a few of the consequences.

In the construction business, clients pay long before they see the final product. Investing in residential properties and holiday homes can be a risky business, especially if you're buying off plan or hiring a building company. Luckily, Bulgaria has recently achieved a significant level of transparency in the construction sector. Since the beginning of 2008, every construction company must enrol in the Professional List of Bulgarian Building Companies. Monitored by the Bulgarian Business and Construction Chamber, the list is a Who's Who of the construction world. It contains complete information about every registered construction company, including financial status, credentials, equipment, all projects completed in the last three years and employees. The list is not just an account of the existing companies but has restrictive powers as well. Only companies on the list are eligible to obtain planning permissions or release permits for new projects.

When buying property, especially in new buildings, or when starting a new project, it is essential that you make sure you have chosen a reputable and reliable building company. All the necessary data about legal Bulgarian builders is available to everyone free of charge on the Bulgarian Business and Construction Chamber's website. Such an investigation can spare you years of problems.


    Commenting on

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Six months after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the world into lockdowns and uncertainties, a fuller picture of its effect on the world economy is beginning to emerge. Bulgaria fared not too bad, according to recent statistical data.

Nowhere is the abyss between what Boyko Borisov's GERB says it is doing and what it in fact does so obvious than in the economy of what firmly remains the EU's poorest state.

From bad to worse? According to a poll by Alpha Research published at the end of 2011, the majority of Bulgarians consider 2011 to have been "the worst" since the economic collapse of 1997.

In the third quarter of 2010 the average monthly income of an adult member of a family in Bulgaria decreased by 2.2 percent on a year earlier. At the moment it is 932 leva, or 466 euros, according to the National Statistical Institute.

The crisis was already a fact in Bulgaria at the beginning of 2009, but the owner of an accountancy firm in Gorna Oryahovitsa would deny it even more vehemently than then Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev.
Rays of hope have started to peep through the cloud-covered economic horizon – even in the new EU member states. Poland has managed to avoid going into recession.

At first, they stopped buying. Then it got worse - they started selling. Yes, it seems the British have deserted the Bulgarian property market and the Bulgarians are taking it very personally.
"The Bulgarian economy is stable." The words former Finance Minister Plamen Oresharski uttered in October 2008 seem more than just a little out of place a year later.

While last autumn the prevailing opinion of people in this country was that the economic crisis did not have a direct effect on them, their view is now completely different.

The commercial real estate market in Bulgaria is at a crossroads.
The "monster munch," as Londoners call the current credit crunch, in my view is running out steam. Everyone is growing tired of the pundits.
According to a saying very popular among Bulgarians in the past, "In his life, a man must do three things: raise a child, plant a tree and build a house for his family." Nowadays this way of thinking no longer reflects the urban lifestyle – the current rati