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Title Deed fight heads to European court

European Court in Brussels

FED-UP property buyers have decided to change tack and pursue their Title Deeds through Brussels, arguing that holding back of the deeds violates the EU directive on unfair commercial practices.

The Sunday Mail has seen  copies of letters which are being sent to the EU Commission and also to British Prime Minister David Cameron from UK MEPs, which they and the Cyprus Property Action Group (CPAG) hope could prompt some action.

It is expected that most or all of the 72-MEPs will sign the letters which are part of a coordinated plan, said CPAG’s Denis O’Hare, who believes the move could be a “title-deeds game-changer”.

EU Directive 2005/29/EC – Unfair Commercial Practices ‘ was transposed into Cypriot law via 103 (I) /2007, effective December 2007 with the Commerce Ministry as the enforcement agency, yet was never properly promoted publicly as required under the Directive,” said O’Hare. “Lawyers we have talked to had not even heard about it.”

O’Hare said that currently the English-language version of the Commerce Ministry’s website contains no reference to the Directive “nor does the consumer protection legislation section of the Cyprus Consumers’ Association website”.

According to O’Hare, the role of the Competition and Consumer Protection Service (CCPS) has also been kept under wraps.¬† He said EU documents show that: ‘Where the Competition and Consumer Protection Service of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, upon an investigation, considers that there is a violation, it may – if it deems necessary – apply to the District Court for the issue of a prohibitory or mandatory order, including the interim order, against any person who, according to the Court’s opinion is liable for this violation.’

O’Hare said this suggests that the CCPS would take any court action on behalf of complainants. “To the tens of thousands without Title Deeds and whose homes are at risk due to developer mortgages, the withholding of their deeds would seem the most unfair commercial practice of all,” he said.

It is believed that well over 100,000 home buyers are without Title Deeds, one third of them foreigners, “Moreover, this grossly unfair practice also gives rise to other unfair practices by developers, such as cancellation’ charges, Immovable Property Tax and other scams,” O’Hare added.

An official at the CCPS told the Sunday Mail that she was aware of the Directive and said campaigns had been launched in the past to inform the public. Petros Markou, the head of the Cyprus Consumers Association said he had never heard of the Directive but would look into it.

The MEP letter to the Commission, coordinated by MEP Daniel Hannan, requests confirmation that the developer practice of not transferring deeds infringes this Directive, regardless of when the property was purchased, referring to the clause ‘unfair practices occurring before, during and after a commercial transaction’.

The letter concludes: ‘Finally, we strongly urge the Commission to recommend that the withholding of Title Deeds or legal ownership of immovable property after purchase be added to Annex 1 of Directive 2005/29/EC, which lists 31 Commercial practices which are in all circumstances considered unfair’.

The letter to David Cameron calls for the investigation of the selling practices of Cypriot developers and their agents and the taking of appropriate measures, under UK law.

It is understood that a new CPAG website will be going live in the near future which will, among other things, give instructions on how to complain to the CCPS. O’Hare said: “Given the nature and size of the problem it is difficult to see how the CCPS will cope, however this itself will give grounds for complaint to the EU about the failure of Cyprus to enforce the Directive – our MEP powerbase will then push for EU action to be taken.

“Finally, should buyers not obtain satisfaction through the CCPS it could be that having exhausted this designated local legal remedy, they will also be at liberty, in their droves, to use the European Court of Human Rights, which is also free,” O’Hare added.