Apartment Exchanges

The typical Soviet reaction to such hardship was to think up clever schemes to get around the official regulations. The apartment exchange was a case in point. If, for example, two people married, they might want to exchange their two one room apartments for one two room apartment. The simplest way might be to find another couple who were divorcing and switch with them. Of course, all this had to be approved by the housing authorities and the housing committees of each apartment building. Usually the situation was more complex: perhaps a third or fourth family would be involved, with family three moving into apartment one, and family four moving to apartment 3, and so on. Inequities in terms of the size and quality of the apartment and the desirability of the neighborhood had to be taken into account.

Sometimes some parties could be paid off in some way to accept a less desirable living situation. Another trick was to divide an apartment with large rooms into more smaller rooms, which might make it more desirable, at least on paper. Such machinations endured into the last days of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Voinovich's Ivankiad (1976) is a brilliant satire about the attempt of a well-connected neighbor to obtain an extra room for his imported bathroom fixtures. Yury Trifonov's "Exchange" is a novella about a young couple's attempt to pull off an exchange before the husband's mother dies, which would automatically lose them one piece of the puzzle (one cannot inherit state property).