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Interest groups doubtful on Title Deeds legislation

Property groups in Cyprus remain sceptical of the effectiveness of the Title Deed legislation being proposed by the Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis following his briefing to them last evening.

INTERIOR Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis briefed a meeting of interest groups yesterday on the latest amendments to the five proposed bills aimed at easing the Title Deeds problem and ultimately creating healthier conditions in the property market.

Some 25 people attended the meeting, representing all the relevant government departments, the Technical Chamber (ETEK), the Cyprus Land & Building Developers Association (CLBDA), the Cyprus Land and Property Owners’ Association (KSIA), surveyors and other property sector professionals.

It was not clear whether the banks were invited to the meeting, but KSIA President Giorgos Strovolides said that “nobody from the banks was there”. The Cyprus Bar Association, which issued a statement last month recommending opposition to three of the amending bills, was invited, but did not attend.

An estimated 130,000 units (houses, flats, hotels) are currently without Title Deeds, while only 25,000 applications for Title Deeds have reached the Land Registry. The proposed legislation has been designed to ease this bottle-neck by providing a town-planning amnesty and strengthening the position of property-buyers when applying for Title Deeds.

Strovolides told the Cyprus Mail: “It is very positive they realised that they need to bring all the interested parties together to try to solve the problem.” However, he still felt that the main aim of the legislation is the town-planning amnesty.

He said that the “special execution process” – which would allow the owner of an individual property unit to apply directly to the Land Registry for the Title Deed rather than depending on the developer of the whole project to do so – “makes sense, but we’ll have to see how it works out. There is a difference between theory and practice.

Regarding the estimated number of properties for which Title Deed applications have not yet entered the system, Strovolides said: “They should have given numbers. They talk about 130,000 Titles not being issued, but they don’t give a breakdown which identifies the specific reasons for non-issuance. Having real numbers under different headings – or at least accurate estimates – would allow targets to be set. How long will it take to clear the backlog? One year or 100 years? I don’t understand how we can try to solve the problem without establishing exactly how big it is first.

He added: “With all the bureaucracy that affects every area at the moment, I’m not sure to what extent the system will be able to cope with the extra workload.” That said, “this is a step in the right direction. How small or big a step it is will become clear later.

CLBDA President Lakis Tofarides said that “the attempt is very positive, and we support every effort in this direction. But we’re not sure how effective the legislation can be in practice, given the bureaucracy that exists.

Tofarides said that “only the results will show whether the legislation will solve the problem”, but in the meantime “we can’t judge something that’s half-finished; the legislation is still being worked on. Rest assured that when we get the final version, we will give our full and detailed position.

Cyprus Property Action Group (CPAG) President Denis O’Hare had a separate meeting with Sylikiotis yesterday afternoon, during which he raised some of the main concerns on which CPAG has been campaigning for some time.

O’Hare told the Mail that the meeting was positive, but only went so far. He said that Sylikiotis “seems sincere, but he still doesn’t have a real answer to the developer mortgages question, beyond saying that the proposed legislation will help size the problem by flushing out cases that are not yet in the system”.

The existence of outstanding developer mortgages poses the threat of repossession by the banks to thousands of home-owners without Title Deeds, “but the Minister is just focussing on getting this legislation in place for now”, O’Hare said.

He added: “There’s no solution to this problem in sight now, and we will keep pressing until there is.

Sylikiotis is due to meet representatives of the main political parties this morning to discuss the package of draft legislation, with the aim of facilitating its passage through the House.

© Cyprus Mail 2009

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