Rent in pre-revolutionary Saint Petersburg. Hundred years ago everything was absolutely in another way in our city - even in the real estate market. Actually we did not have the “market” within the present meaning of this word. For example, in the beginning of XX-th century the apartments in Petersburg were not offered for sale. It was possible to buy the house entirely or the land under building of the private residence. And it was impossible to buy just apartment.
But almost any apartment could be rented (it was more correct to speak then – “to hire”). For this purpose there was a special business – construction of multiroom tenement buildings in which, basically the representatives of social class as known now as "middle class" lived. In Petersburg such houses began to be constructed in large quantities in the second half of the XIX-th century.
The social structure of inhabitants in tenement buildings was very motley - lay-out of the houses conduced to that. The spacious light apartments of big officials and people of substance were lengthways beautiful trimmed external facades. The internal perimetre usually was occupied by officials of the lowest ranks, commoners and students, who huddled in the dark, shut from the sun premises which came out to gloomy and sometimes stinking staircases. Rooms seldom were four-square. Often they were extended in depth that worsened the light exposure and air exchange.
Contingent of rented apartments in Petersburg
The settlement on floors was the same different. Owners of shops, studio and fashionable salons rented the ground floors. The second were intended for offices. The merchants, industrialists and aristocrats lived on the third floors, the most prestigious ones, more ordinary public lived on higher floors.
Rent in pre-revolutionary Petersburg. If the house included the mansards then the students, retired military men in the ranks beneath and bohemians lived there. In brief, the tenement building of that time had character of certain universal model in which the numerous estates of pre-revolutionary Russia got along organically. And, mark you, without the today's tendency to deliberate segregation.
By the way, many inhabitants of the tenement building were out-of-town visitors - St.-Petersburg of that time was city of migrants. From the moment of the foundation of city by Peter and during of all century before last the continuous current of the officials, merchant sons and different experts - from the qualified mechanics to doctors came to capital of Russian empire for habitual residence. Since Peter the Great and till Catherine’s II brilliant time, most of them arrived from abroad but later the foreign handy and clever migrants were replaced by the provincial inhabitants going to Petersburg in search of the best share.
But, as well as today, only few of them understood, that in capital of empire they could not only earn well but they should spend a lot of money «for living». Even those visitors who could find work at once and get rather big salary, almost inevitably got to category of "insufficient" inhabitants of capital. It meant that their earnings were hardly enough for payment of rented accomodation, more or less tolerable food and a little bit degree proper clothes.
Many visitors being euchred, tried to earn and by means of subrent. For example, the typical families of small officials rented apartments in three rooms - the choice of three roomd was dictated not by the size of family but the way of decrease in rent expenses – where it was cheaper, i.e. on the top floors of Petersburg tenement buildings which windows usually came out to court yards-“wells”. As a rule, the apartment costed around 30-45 roubles per month that was practically equaled to earning of the average official or the qualified workman. Therefore the quite usual practice which was forbidden neither the law, nor owners of the house, was subrent i.e. rent of one of rooms.
Usually such rooms were rented by students. The student-renter paid 10-15 roubles per month for room and boiled water in the morning and evening. But if he found the partner, then for room for two they gave already from 18 to 25 roubles. But often such double and even triple sub-rent did not solve all financial problems of new Petersburgers. They tried every trick so their clothes would not count for first impression of "insufficient" social class.
For example, tailors or mechanics could transform a part of their apartment into small workshop and in free time they earned by means of the individual orders from neighbours or the acquaintances they have got in new residence. Or the paramedics who did not have the rights to carry out the private medical practice, received the clientele directly in apartment from the same towny people who constantly lack money and did not have means for visit to the licensed doctor.
As a rule the apartment was rented for one year, thus the house owner concluded the contract provided the terms of rent, payment, terms and way of payment etc. By the way, since 1893 the tenant paid, except rent, the state tax and the size of the tax depended on price of rented apartment.
Cost of apartments directly depended on place, quantity of rooms, floor and quality of services and just apartment. Apartments in the centre of city were especially valued, closer to the outskirts the price receded almost by an order of magnitude. For example, the five-room apartment on Liteynyj prospect could be rented for 800-850 roubles per year and the same apartment on Mokhovaya costed already 200 roubles cheaper.
How much did it cost to rent apartment in Petersburg in the beginning of 20-th century?
The poor people rented not apartments but rooms. The rent depended not on metric area, as now, but it was taken from one person. The payment was rather various too:
Near the Nikolaevskiy (Moscovskiy) station the room could be rented for 80 roubles per year, near Sennaya square - for 45 roubles. There were rooms even cheaper, for example, on the Vyborgskaya storona. The rent cost of such room was comparable to vodka bucket.
Is it much or little? In the end of XIX-th century the annual salary of the high school teacher made from 750 to 1500 roubles per year and monthly earning of the worker - 40-50 roubles.
Besides the incomes of workers in factories and plants differed very much: "factory people" were valued much cheaper and factories took basically qualified workers who had bigger salaries.
The salary of some officials is known to us from literature history: for example, in 1839 Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin had rather lowly salary in 400 roubles per year. General Epanchin promised to prince Myshkin approximately the same amount "to begin with".
Market prices in St.-Petersburg
For comparison we take also the market prices in St.-Petersburg at the turn of the century: wheat pood - 97 copeck, sugar pood - 6 rbl.,15 copeck, bucket of spirit (12,3 l) - 3-4 rbl., vodka bucket - 10-12 rbl., kerosene pood - 1 rbl., 08 copeck. The milk cow could be bought for 20 roubles in paper money.
By the way, in those days the short-term/or daily/rent was in St.-Petersburg frankly speaking enough specific one. The rented lodging was called as rooms and assumed the presence in “complete services” the ample-breasted women in underwear or without that (as they spoke then - deshabille).
In newspapers of the beginning of the last century there were very many announcements about daily rent perceived now as funny– basically they guaranteed the confidentiality of such rent. Such announcements were often accompanied by rather playful pictures.
Probably, keeping the nice traditions, some owners of present well-known city rent agencies began the business with creation of marriage agencies and they involved the first clients to rent in Petersburg for the purpose of closer acquaintance with today's slim northern nymphs.
The Soviet power has hammered big aspen stake in idea of the tenement building: the home ownership existing for the sake of income provision, did not work at all with ideology of
general nationalisation and private property liquidation. All city residential areas were completely nationalised. Tenement buildings were re-planned, not-proletarian tenants were thoroughly “packed” and the epoch of communal apartments began.