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Minister and opposition in row over Title Deed bills

INTERIOR Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis yesterday urged parliament to vote for the government’s long-awaited town-planning amnesty bills and accused opposition DISY of stalling and trying to alter their provisions.

The Minister said that it is well-known that the dysfunction of the whole system of development control “but also a multitude of problems, violations and omissions by professionals in the construction sector, resulted, among other serious evils, in the victimisation … of thousands of property buyers, as well as the defamation of our country abroad.”

Sylikiotis urged parliament to vote for the bills, under discussion for the past 10 months, and accused DISY of stalling tactics.

“There are thousands of buyers and owners waiting for these bills to go through,” the Minister said. “The excuse put forward by some people, that this exhaustive dialogue in the House (Interior) Committee aims at improving the bills is inaccurate.”

He said the delay did not add anything toward improving the bills “but on the contrary, what it essentially achieves is to perpetuate a situation that only hurts the tens of thousands of buyers whose rights are not safeguarded while Cyprus continues to be degraded overseas.”

The Minister was referring to three of the five bills currently before the house dealing with various aspects of the Title Deed issue.

But he added that there was also a delay in processing the other two bills – which regulate the mortgage issue – currently being discussed in the House Legal Affairs Committee, chaired by DISY’s Ionas Nicolaou.

Sylikiotis urged DISY MPs to “abandon their stalling tactics and efforts to alter or neutralise the essence of the … innovations and reforms, which protect the buyers’ rights by overcoming past anachronisms.”

DISY responded in the afternoon, accusing the Minister of making baseless claims and spoiling the constructive climate at a critical moment.

MP Christos Stylianides said “despite their many reservations on various points … the parliamentary group has decided to support them, stating its reservations, in the hope that their implementation will reveal the imperfections that can be amended in order to arrive at the best result.”

Thousands of home owners remain without Title Deeds to their property due to irregularities at the time of construction or changes made later on.

For instance, residents of an apartment block cannot get the deed to their flat if one of the owners in the building turned his balcony into a spare bedroom.

Thousands were also left without deeds, even after paying for their house, because developers did not pay back to the bank the mortgage they took out to finance the development.

Sylikiotis said the five bills aim to regulate the sector and do away with problems of the past.

The two bills (regarding mortgages) currently discussed by the House Legal Affairs Committee provide a way out to buyers while setting safeguards so that buyers who have met their obligations can get the property transferred to their name, the Minister said.

“Buyers can claim their rights through better provisions included in the legislation,” Sylikiotis said.

One of the bills that concerns the sale of land, includes provisions also agreed by the banks “to create a mechanism so that when the buyer pays, their plot is freed and they can acquire the Title Deed,” Sylikiotis said.

As regards building irregularities that do not affect third parties or encroach in public spaces, they can be legalised by paying local authorities a fee.

Those fees will be determined through a general evaluation of properties in an area carried out by the Land Registry.

Title Deeds for properties with irregularities will be issued but they will be accompanied by notes specifying the wrongdoing.

Owners will be able to correct those ‘notes’ by paying the fee or keep the title as is and risk their property valued at a lower price since a potential buyer will be aware of the encumbrances.

Approval of the bills will also fetch much needed revenues for the government as every title costs around €8,000 in Property Transfer Fees.

Over 100,000 Title Deeds are currently pending but not all are expected to be issued at once.

Sylikiotis said the state can issue up to 20,000 titles a year, which means around €150 million in revenues for the government.