A dacha was a seasonal or year-round second home, often located in the exurbs of Russian and other post-Soviet cities. A cottage or shack serving as a family's main or only home, or an outbuilding, is not considered a dacha, although recently purpose-built dachas have been converted to year-round residences, and vice versa. In some cases, dachas are occupied for part of the year by their owners and rented out to urban residents as summer retreats. People on dachas are colloquially called dachniks ; the term usually refers not only to presence on dacha, but to a whole distinctive lifestyle. The Russian term is often said to have no exact counterpart in English.
Dachas were very common in Russia, and were also widespread in most parts of the former Soviet Union and some countries of the former Eastern Bloc. It was estimated that in 1995 about 50% of Russian families living in large cities have dachas. Most dachas are in colonies of dachas and garden plots near large cities, that have existed since the Soviet era, which consist of numerous small, typically 600 square metres (0.15 acres), land plots. They were initially intended only as recreation getaways of city dwellers and for the purpose of growing small gardens for food. Dachas are used today for fishing, hunting, and other leisure activities, and growing garden crops remains popular, still seen as an important part of dacha life.
Dachas originated as small country estates gifted by the tsar, and have been popular among the upper and middle classes ever since. During the Soviet era, many dachas were state-owned, and were given to the elite of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). State dachas (gosdacha) continue to be owned by the government of the Russian Federation, for use by the president and other officials. They were extremely popular in the Soviet Union, because people did not have an opportunity to buy land and build a house where they wanted, and also because they lacked other opportunities to spend their time and money.
As the size and type of dacha buildings for ordinary people was severely restricted during the Soviet time, permitted features such as large attics or glazed verandas, became extremely widespread and often oversized. In the period from the 1960s to 1985, these limitations were especially strict: only single-story summer houses without permanent heating and with living areas less than 60 m2 (646 sq ft) were allowed as second housing (though older dachas that did not meet these requirements continued to exist). In the 1980s, the rules were loosened, and since 1990, all such limitations have been eliminated.