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Comments on property issues provoke sharp reaction

Observations made UK Minster for Europe David Lidington about the Title Deed ‘problems’ in the north and south of the Island provoked a sharp reaction from the Cyprus government.

THE FIRST ministerial visit from the current UK government ended on a sticky note on Tuesday after Europe Minister David Lidington made an “unfortunate” comment comparing property problems which exist north and south of the island, prompting a public rebuke from the Cyprus foreign ministry.

After meeting President Demetris Christofias on Monday, Lidington met Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou, DISY opposition leader Nicos Anastassiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu on tuesday.

The early morning joint press conference between Kyprianou and Lidington offered no surprises, keeping relations between Britain and its former colony on a firm footing.

However, during a separate press conference later in the day, Lidington was asked to comment on the fact that many British citizens buy Greek Cypriot properties in the occupied north and are then issued with illegal Title Deeds.

The Europe Minister responded: “The problem about title to a property is by no means one confined to the north of the island. There are issues to do with title and possession that apply to some British expatriates living south of the island as well.”

When quizzed further on the issue, he said: “This is not something that is a problem for the north of the island only. I have letters from (British) MPs about the property issue in the south of Cyprus too.”

He added: “I am concerned to make sure as a British minister that the concerns of British citizens expressed to me by their members of parliament are understood by my colleagues here in Cyprus.”

The reference to the thousands of legal property owners in Cyprus still without Title Deeds, the majority of whom are Cypriot, may have won the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron some friends among British expats on the island but did not score any points with the foreign ministry.

The ministry found the apparent link made between a political problem and a largely administrative issue a tad unfortunate.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, the ministry said it was “at the very least unfortunate comparing and associating the usurpation of stolen Greek Cypriot properties in the occupied areas – the owners of which were expelled by force of arms as a result of the Turkish invasion and continuing occupation – with any legal or other problems that may arise from the purchase of immoveable property in the free areas by Britons.”

Regarding Lidington’s claim that he raised the issue of pending Title Deeds in the government-controlled areas with his Cypriot colleagues, the ministry maintained no such issue was raised. “Despite the fact that these issues did not come up in meetings with Mr Lidington, the Cyprus government is making every possible effort to address and resolve the issue of granting Title Deeds to legitimate property owners.”

Lidington’s comments were also described by DISY deputy Zacharias Zachariou as “totally unacceptable”. He accused Lidington of ignoring the British Court of Appeal’s ruling in favour of Greek Cypriot property owner Meletios Apostolides over the British Orams couple who were illegally resident on his land in the north.

DIKO MP Angelos Votsis said the minister’s statements “sent another message that this is the Britain we know so don’t get fooled into thinking it wants to help find a solution to the Cyprus problem.”

Asked to comment, spokesman for the British High Commission Paul Lakin said last night: “The minister was not making a comparison between the two issues but simply observing, as a UK minister, what his constituents and fellow MPs raise with him.”

Meanwhile, on the British government’s approach on the Cyprus problem, Lidington said: “We believe there is a moment of opportunity now available following the parliamentary elections both here in Cyprus and in Turkey.”

He hoped the July 7 Geneva meeting between the two leaders and the UN chief will “galvanise” the leaderships of both communities “to look anew on how to find a way forward to tackle the outstanding difficulties that stand in the way of a settlement, and not just be restricted to taking stock of what’s happened so far”.

Regarding the UN’s continued interest in the problem, Lidington highlighted that one “cannot take it for granted that their priority will continue to be with Cyprus if there is little sign of progress being made”.

Readers' comments

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  • @Mike Lewis – your earlier comment failed to comply to the guidelines above as it was not “relevant to the substance of the original article” in was merely a reply to what Pavlos had said.

    Costas has only made one comment on this article.

    One comment on this article went into the ‘spam’ area; this has been re-submitted and published

    I have rejected five comments in total against this article, all of which contained racist slurs.

    Incidentally, it was these racial and other derogatory comments that resulted in the Cyprus Mail changing it’s system of comments.

  • John Savidge says:

    To Pavlos Loizou

    I think you are right in what you say, I would like to point out that it is the whole system that cannot cope with the amount of properties that have been built in the last 20 years or so, but through the governments failings to update it and perhaps employ more staff, this is what has happened.

    There is going to be a long period of quiet activity in the property market due to this and the way things are economically at present, perhaps they should use this time to update the system, clear the backlog, (for everyone) so when the recovery does happen, Cyprus is better placed to deal with Title Deeds and all the relevant issues better for future property purchasers of all people.

    Lets all calm down and try to sort this out, it’s the only way forward.

    I too have had a really bad experience in buying a property, but my wife and I are slowly getting through it and and calmly sorting it out, and do you know what, “In the end we will get there” without shouting and screaming, this is the easiest way for us anyway.

    John Savidge (Real name by the way Pavlos)

  • Mike Lewis says:

    Nigel
    re: the extreme comments from Pavlos Loizou presented by you – the surprisingly low numbers of comments to this type of posting, the comment from Costas Apacket regarding his ‘lost’ comments, and the fact you deleted my own comment which was ascerbic but non-libellous, etc., leads me to think you are being far too careful in allowing people to respond to this person. Perhaps free speech in Cyprus went the same way as consumer protection by the law.

  • Denton Mackrell says:

    @Pavlos Loizou. I am guessing that you work for an estate agency as the term ‘flip’ is used almost exclusively by estate agency personnel. In demanding that other posters should be open about themselves, why did you not declare your own commercial interest? I do understand that you may have a vested interest in casting the property industry in a good light but your rather strong comments achieve the opposite. For anyone on the supply side of the industry to blame the buyers (or ‘moaners’) for their own and the property industry’s current demise is perhaps unwise. It turns new buyers off!!

    I agree with Mike that few of the individual foreign buyers who complain about non-issue of their Title Deeds will be short-term profit takers and, if they were, they would have gone long ago. Of the hundreds of buyers I know (including me), I cannot identify one who matches your thumbnail sketch of the typical buyer or ‘moaner’ as you describe us. Many of us have lived here for typically 7-20 years and are still awaiting our deeds. We would all love to be in a position to pay our transfer duties. Legitimate complaint about such a serious matter is hardly ‘moaning’.

    As Mike notes, the new Bills do not remove the stumbling block of developer mortgages or unpaid developer taxes. Even when the 120,000 or so outstanding buyers try to secure their deeds, many are finding that the release is blocked by uncleared developer mortgages and, even if these are removed, a developer’s unpaid taxes will not allow the buyer to ‘step up to pay their transfer duties’.

    Re Mr Lidington’s comments, he did not make any moral equivalence or other connection between property issues in north Cyprus and the south. He merely noted the fact that while there are indeed serious title issues in the north there are also (different) title deeds problems in the south. The Republic of Cyprus government has no control in the north and cannot be blamed for anything the ‘authorities’ or property industry there gets up to. However, where it does have full control it is indeed responsible for sorting out the title deeds mess.

  • @Pavlos & @Mike – thank you for your comments.

    The majority of those who comment on articles have had bad experiences when buying property here and are looking to let off some steam, which occasionally gets out of hand. Hopefully I have removed those that failed to comply with the comment guidelines.

    Most of the reported 130,000 properties without Title Deeds have undoubtedly been purchased by Cypriots. It would be interesting to know how many of these have been bought by Cypriots and how many by non-Cypriots. And it would be even more interesting to know what is preventing the issuance of those Title Deeds – vendor mortgages, planning infringements, bureaucratic delays, etc – according to type of buyer (Cypriot or non-Cypriot).

    In October 2008, the Land Registry put the number of properties bought by non-Cypriots that had yet to be issued with Title Deeds at 29,949 and that the number of properties transferred to non-Cypriots in the preceding three and a half years was 4,400. It would be useful to have an update on the situation.

    As Mike points out most of those who comment come from countries where there are severe penalties for fraud, mis-selling and planning infringements.

    As you may appreciate I get dozens of emails seeking my advice on how to deal with various problems that people have encountered. Two cases of fraud have recently come to my attention. One involves the falsification of documents that has burdened the victim of the fraud with a mortgage in excess of €1,000,000. In another case an email was falsified that resulted in a developer receiving a significant sum of money for work that had not been done (the development has been mothballed). Although these cases were reported to the Police, they refused to investigate saying they were civil matters; leaving those who have been defrauded to seek redress though the courts.

    As for the planning amnesty, I hope it will result in some people receiving Title Deeds for the properties they have purchased. But what message does it send out to those who have broken the law? Will the new laws stop them breaking the law in future?

    I spent several years serving as an elected member on my local council in the UK; some of which were spent on its planning committee. We had no qualms about instructing those who had broken the conditions of their permits to remove the offending parts of the building and ensuring that they complied – and in one case I recall we ordered the demolition of an illegal structure and it had gone within a few weeks. (Planning offenders had the right to appeal).

    As for mis-selling, you only have to watch a few TV advertisements to realise the practice isn’t restricted to property!

    As for transfer duties, Holland has just announced plans to cut its overdrachtsbelasting or conveyancing tax from 6% to 2% for a year in an effort to boost its housing market. And the Property Transfer tax in the Republic of Ireland, which used to be paid as stamp duty at 9% on properties valued at €150,000+, has been reduced to just 1% across the board.

    But it seems that the authorities in Cyprus are trying to get more transfer duties out of people by increasing the market value of their property. I’m afraid that trying to get more money out of people who have already suffered at the hands of unscrupulous developers, lawyers and estate agents is unlikely to succeed.

    (I suspect that the higher transfer fees being demanded in Limassol result from the influx of the nouveau riche buyers from former Soviet Union countries a few years ago who were allegedly willing to pay ridiculous sums of money for property).

    Finally, regarding the plight of the 200,000 refugees and their property rights, this is a matter for the Island’s politicians to resolve and I hope that the current negotiations reach a solution. But I would respectfully mention that it was not only Cypriots who lost everything as a result of the invasion, many foreigners were forced to flee their homes and have been unable to return.

  • Costas Apacket says:

    Not sure where my other comments on this topic have gone, but well done to Mr Lidington for raising the profile of this ongoing debacle.

  • Mike says:

    Pavlos

    As much as I respect the sentiments behind your post I think it may be a little disingenuous to those who have made Cyprus their home.

    I am a refugee from the North Famagusta region, I have many English, Polish, Greek German and Cypriot friends the majority of whom have bought property as their primary home. One or two still have property where they originated from the majority do not. These individuals did not buy to flip. They bought to live in or build on in order to live in. Agreed there are some in the Country who did buy as an investment but that is their choice and may I respectfully suggest is not a licence to defraud.

    We must all bear in mind that this person did not equate the “plight of 200,000 refugees with people owning property If I am not mistaken one of our Ministers did that & the media capitalised on it. “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story”.

    The fact remains however that our Government (for reasons which I can understand) is reluctant to address the mess, compared to other Nations, which we call our property market. I think you will find the moans are directed at the system, the lies & deceit peddled by the developers in collusion with our lawyers and the absence of any safeguards for the buyer.

    We must remember that these people come from countries that are regulated and have severe penalties for fraud and mis-selling with systems in place to assure that. When, as is reported, they are told in Cyprus “don’t worry it’s the way we do things here, the law is the same as in Germany, England, Sweden etc.” that is plainly a lie because Ottoman land law is only found in Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and a couple of bordering countries. It is nothing like European or American land law. As different as grapes are to Goats.

    Finally the planning amnesty laws are to do, as far as I see, with the buyer paying the developers mortgage to the Banks off, I am certain they would pay transfer fees if they had title but of course they cannot have until the mortgage or other charges like taxes are paid off. You & I know that is not just.

  • Pavlos Loizou says:

    With due respect to Nigel Howarth who runs this excellent portal, I find the comments made on this website quite disrespectful. To equate the plight of 200,000 refugees with that of people owning property whose title deeds have not been issued is obscene.

    With regards to title deeds, I would remind readers that it’s not only foreigners who do not have title deeds. Locals are in the same boat as well.

    As for whether the new ‘planning amnesty’ laws will work or not, rests mainly on whether all these buyers will step up to pay their transfer duties. Will they? I sincerely doubt it; most bought property simply to ‘flip it’ and they are now licking their wounds of yet another bad investment (probably following similar acquisitions in Spain, Bulgaria, etc).

    A note to those angry at reading this commentary. Stop hiding behind nicknames and use proper names so that we all know that you are. Its easy to be the one shouting from the back, but things tend to get harder if people then turn around to look at you and ask you to explain why you said what you said.

    PS To editorial – have you considered changing the name to ‘Cyprus Property Moaners’?

  • Denis O'Hare says:

    CPAG had assurances from the previous Minister for Europe, Chris Bryant, that he had raised the property problems with the President in his meeting with him.

    Also to quote from a letter we at CPAG received from Mr Lidington late last year:

    ‘Thank you for your letter about the problems that British nationals face when purchasing properties on the island of Cyprus. I share your concerns and those of many other British nationals who have been experiencing problems’.

    ‘I would also like to reassure you of the effort we make to raise awareness of these property issues with the appropriate authorities and express concern at the impact they are having on our nationals’.

    So well done David Lidington for keeping his promise!

    Also to quote from the above article : “Despite the fact that these issues did not come up in meetings with Mr Lidington, the Cyprus government is making every possible effort to address and resolve the issue of granting Title Deeds to legitimate property owners.”

    We all know that the Cyprus government is doing no such thing as it has no plan whatsoever to address the developer mortgage scandal – ‘a largely administrative issue’ they are now calling this!

    Tell that to the poor victims who stand to lose their homes as these developers go bust!

  • andyp says:

    Well done Mr Lidington. It is about time this issue had a much higher political profile.

    As usual, certain parties seem to twist what appears to have been said with a view to simply ignoring the title deed issue in the hope that it all goes away. No change there then.

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