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EU seeks answers from Cyprus on Title Deeds

Cyprus has until early January to reply to a memo from the EU following a petition by the Cyprus Property Action Group and 41 MEPs calling for confirmation that withholding Title Deeds breaches EU fair practice laws.

EU Commission Vice President Viviane Reding - Photo: ec.europa.eu

CYPRUS is in trouble with the EU commission again, but this time it’s not the environment or financial mismanagement; it is property.

The government is facing some tough questions from EU Commission Vice President Viviane Reding about the measures they took – or should have taken – to ensure property sales did not fall under the unfair commercial practice directive (UCPD).

Reding’s letter to the government follows a June petition by the Cyprus Property Action Group (CPAG) and 41 MEPs, calling for confirmation of whether withholding title deeds is a violation of the EU’s fair practice laws.

Responding to CPAG’s petition last week, Reding said: “…an administrative letter has been sent to the Cypriot authorities enquiring on the one hand, as to the actions carried out at national level to address the reported practices and… On the other hand, about the measures taken to ensure that consumers are adequately informed about the Cypriot law transposing Directive 2005/29/EC on Unfair Commercial Practices (the ‘UCPD’).”

EU has given the Cyprus government until early January to reply to the memo. “Should the information communicated be unsatisfactory, the European Commission is prepared to take further action as appropriate,” Reding said.

It is not clear what that further action will be, but according to CPAG leader Denis O’Hare, it could include sanctions and funding cuts, as happened in Bulgaria after it failed to tackle its own corruption issues.

O’Hare believes the government has not only failed to implement the directive, but that he also has evidence the government sought to suppress knowledge of it to consumers. This claim is also being investigated by the EU.

Reding’s letter could have arrived in the nick of time, as it coincided with one bank’s attempt to auction land (and houses built on it) it had mortgaged to a bankrupt developer, leaving the land’s residents facing repossession.

Until now, the government has always claimed that such buyers were protected once they have lodged their sales contract at the Land Registry.

Reding’s initial review of CPAG’s petition should be encouraging for the estimated 50,000 expats with outstanding title deeds in Cyprus:

Misleading
omission

“The lack of pre-contractual information to property buyers about the existence of developers’ mortgages on the Cypriot properties offered for sale, which is the crucial fact having led to the subsequent lack of delivery of the title deeds, would seem prima facie to amount to a misleading omission in the sense of Article 7 of the UCPD,” he said.

Early next year Reding will issue a report into the UCPD’s implementation in member states, listing the most unfair practices encounters, including in the property sector.

Once published it is probable that draft legal changes will be developed by the Commission and these will be voted on by the EU Parliament.

“At this stage we are fairly confident that the practice of withholding title deeds could be outlawed, something which could have a massive impact on the property industry in Cyprus – and most people would say about time too,” O’Hare said.

The full letter from Reding can be seen on updates section of CPAG’s website.

Readers' comments

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  • Costas Apacket says:

    I can’t wait for the Cypriot Government’s response to Ms Reding’s info requests.

    I’m due for a laugh in January and this should do the trick nicely! (although we will probably have to wait until February for our despairing chuckles.)

    What a comedy duo – the slippery eel and the reluctant, ineffectual EU Vice Pres.

    I really hope I’m wrong this time because this could be the big breakthrough, but, just in case. I’m psyching myself up for the potential disappointment, based on past experience.

    Let’s pray that it will be different this time!

  • andyp says:

    Philippos I do not disagree with a word you have said and I fully understand your position and those of other Cypriots.

    You speak up and should be applauded. Hopefully others will follow your lead as we all need the support of like minded individuals who are sick of the frauds and scams which ultimately benefit only a few.

    There is an underlying threat of intimidation for those Cypriots that step out of line, so to speak, but at the end of the day these guys are just small minded greedy bullies and should be treated as such.

    In case you misinterpreted by other post we simply need more Cypriots to join you and speak out. Europe has been lied to before by Cypriot Ministers and politicians but it will be harder for them to do it again if more like you make your views known direct to your government and perhaps Viviane Reding direct.

    Do not let the beggars grind you down.

  • Philippos Anselmou says:

    Andy,

    Here are the facts:

    Not few but not many people in Cyprus are not related to any political party. That makes us the minority. So our voice can be easily suppressed. The law is rotten here. I have witnessed this first hand; so did many people I know or heard of.

    40% of our population are government employees with much better income and privileges; this alone changes the market. They can afford something…we can’t. So the prices are crazy on everything.

    I posted here because I wanted my voice to be heard. It is not everyday that you read such articles about Cyprus. Yes I asked for help but I asked the help of EU not the explicit help of individuals. I actually believe as I mentioned in another post, a common law scheme should be applied to all EU member countries. Another thought would be having cases reviewed by officials in other countries in order to avoid biased cases. In other countries people have family doctors…here most families have their family cop(or politician or person with influence) who saves them in case they do something bad and they want and insist to get away with it.

    And yes I agree with you 110% that this island with this naive culture, could not handle the Mari Naval disaster and that they should have taken the help from the very beginning. They handled everything so badly. I do not believe that any other party would have acted much better. 13 people died and our electricity bill is killing us every month because the central station was next to the bomb. How can you place ammunition of that magnitude next to the central electricity station(or any other vital resource) of the country? Bottom line is, the people responsible for this tragic stupidity are still there…

    I will repeat myself in a more specific way…EU we need your help!!! We need some sort of an EU law invasion to clean up all this filth.

  • Costas Apacket says:

    I’m glad that Vice President Reding actually included the term ‘2012’ in her letter to the Cypriot Government.

    Otherwise it would have been interpreted as any January, at any point, in the next 30 years.

    The Cypriot Government makes the MCC look like group of dynamic young men when it comes to responding to awkward questions, especially when it may make things difficult for their mates, the property brethren.

  • andyp says:

    Philippos. Welcome but we can’t help you.

    I understand your plight and frustration but we are just moaning Brits. Actually I am a moaning Scot.

    Bottom line is that your government, lawyers, bankers, developers were caught all participating in poor quality control, lies,fraud and not giving a toss as long as those that could took the cash at the expense of everyone else.

    Whilst I appreciate your plight you are not alone but in reality only you and your countrymen can change it and stop letting the bureaucrats blaming pesky foreigners. It is a big ask but it is up to you guys at the end of the day.

    You ask for foreign help. The naval base disaster could have been avoided if your government had accepted the help offered from the Brits, Germans, Americans etc but they did not. Politics. What crap.

    The average hard working Cypriot like us has to grow a backbone, like you, and speak out. Only you guys can sort it.

  • Gavin Jones says:

    Philippos Anselmo.

    Once again, thank you for your candid thoughts.

    I’m afraid that I’ll be straying slightly off the theme of this article. Having said that, a statement in your last post was extremely revealing. It encapsulates exactly why this society is as it is and hence why corruption reigns on such a large scale, wrongdoing is allowed to flourish and enforcement of the law is not adhered to.

    You write, “Personally I am afraid to open my mouth in public and go against anything here.” Being an Anglo-Cypriot, I understand more than most the island’s mores. However, by NOT openly expressing one’s views and attempting to make things better, situations like the title deeds scandal and corruption in general will persist.

    And what is it exactly that Cypriots are ‘frightened’ of? Let me give you a personal view.

    Firstly, more than say in the U.K., party affiliations are ultra important in Cyprus and if one goes against the grain, woe betide you. This spills over into personal relationships. If you’re a DISY party supporter, you’re unlikely to form a friendship with someone from AKEL, whatever the intellectual meeting of the minds.

    Secondly, As it’s a small community, everyone keeps their head down for fear of being classed as outspoken and hence a troublemaker. Families habitually rein in those amongst their clan who, in their opinion, cross that line.

    Thirdly, there are historical reasons, I believe, which has reinforced this mindset, namely occupation by foreign powers, stifling any form of dissent and public debate. This spills over into the sort of ‘respect’ that is afforded to those in authority: priests, politicians, lawyers, doctors, etc. Whatever Cypriots might think of them, they accept what they say and do because of their status and NOT because of their ability. Why? because they aspire to have the status that theose positions command for themselves.

    Finally, and getting back to the title deeds theme, it’s all about inside contacts. I know personally of instances when a house purchaser has had trouble getting his title deeds but because he has a relationship with a Cypriot who’s well in with the developer, it’s ‘fixed’ and miraculously the title deeds materialize.

    The above list is not exhaustive but possibly gives ‘outsiders’ a window as to why Cypriots are as they are: seemingly apathetic, accepting of all that is handed out to them and relying solely on the inside track, thus allowing appalling miscarriages of justice and the prolongation of outrages such as we’re witnessing with title deeds.

  • Elizabeth CPAG says:

    Hi Nigel,

    This corruption survey is very recent.

    @Bob Briggs – Nigel doesn’t drink (much!)

  • Mike says:

    Gavin

    A lot of Cypriots, as you state, are not that bothered about receiving title for houses if they hold title to the land it is built on. Those few buying from developers though might be, but in time, as I would suggest most of those purchases from developers in the past would have been for second homes close to the sea, their main home would be built by themselves on their own land.

    Being of Cypriot descent I assume you are aware of that.

    The everyday Cypriot however is bombarded with political rhetoric via the media which paints a far rosier picture of the reality which they are experiencing and as I am sure you are aware they are inclined to believe those appearing to be in some authority – often without question or with quiet resignation. It is only recently that young individuals are beginning to question and this is exposing chasms between the rhetoric and reality.

    We all owe those involved in highlighting the issues of what is essentially a property fraud, they have done a sterling job. However, I would think the various ministries are, as we speak, working overtime to assemble data, spin facts and write statements rebuking any suggestion that the property market is anything but squeaky clean and will paraphrase their answers to the Commission in such a way that will avert any potentially embarrassing attention from the debacle that is the Cypriot property market.

  • Ian says:

    Brilliant!! Get on with it please. The very best of luck to CPAG.

  • @Philippos Anselmou – Thanks for your comments. Regarding corruption, the EU published a survey last year in which 94 percent of respondents believed that corruption in Cyprus is widespread in the police and the wider public sector.

    You can find the article at Corruption in Cyprus is a national problem says EU report.

  • Robert Briggs says:

    @ Mr Denis O’Hare and the CPAG Teams. I would also like to buy Mr Nigel Howarth and his People a pint. Cheers. Bob.

  • Philippos Anselmou says:

    The corruption is much bigger than people outside this island think. We need a strong intervention from EU.

    There is no quality control either concerning properties. You buy a property and it’s really a Kinder Surprise egg. If the toy inside the chocolate egg is faulty…well you lose your money.

    No one will fix anything for you, no developer, nobody.

    If I send you pictures of our building electrical installation you will think that I am kidding; that it’s not a real photo; it’s a joke. But it is serious and so dangerous!

    Guess what…it passed the AEC (electricity authority) tests. So AEC is also corrupted. I am not an electrician. I don’t buy a house everyday. Well bad for me…I am the sucker because of that.

    The laws here are like Swiss cheese; full of holes. There is no balance in anything in Cyprus. Its not only the property domain that is suffering from corruption or exploitation. Their biggest weapon the slow moving and inefficient law system. Let it be slow…they will forget, they will adapt.

    Another simple example of the Cyprus imbalance in everything are the prices of goods sold by world recognised chain companies in Cyprus compared to the prices of the same goods in France. Sometimes 3x or 4x times more expensive. Well the salaries differ also sometimes by 3x or 4x times but this time France wins the battle.

    We need control and guidance from countries like Germany or France or England or Scandinavian countries. We need others to intervene. So many Cypriots are politically connected to different parties and seem to enjoy various privileges like government jobs etc. If you have a government job here you are assured for life here in Cyprus. You are a first class citizen. The rest apart from the rich citizens are secondary or thirdiary class citizens.

    We need EU to clean up the filth. Personally I am afraid to open my mouth in public and go against anything here.

    We seem to be prisoners in our own country. We seriously need help. As much as our politicians try to make things look OK…that’s such a fake facade, such a fake picture.

    I am really poised to say a story of property purchase…you will then get the real picture.

  • Gavin Jones says:

    Philippos Anselmou.

    Many thanks for your passionate and welcome words.

    It’s high time that the whole edifice of corruption which permeates the ruling establishment, governmental, political and judicial, was swept away. Only the Cypriots themselves can do this by vigorously voicing their disgust and discontent at the status quo and by positive action. I never see much dissent from this quarter as there’s too much sycophancy, resignation and acceptance of their fate.

    No matter what foreigners say, do or write, ultimately change has to come from the indigenous population.

    And before anyone gets on their high horse, it’s true that there’s corruption everywhere. The difference here in Cyprus is that it’s accepted, even acceptable, at all levels and even when it’s exposed, the guilty parties are never punished.

    The fact that Denis O’Hare & Co are having to bludgeon away at the problem of title deeds is a sad indictment that the Cypriots themselves don’t appear to be in the least bit involved in this process. (I stand corrected if my facts are wrong). It’s said that the Cypriots are not too bothered about whether or not they get their deeds, something which proves my point. They SHOULD be bothered. How many times have I been told by Cypriots themselves that one cannot get justice here and that the only recourse is to go to Europe: and that is where we are now with the EU finally beginning to put real, and not token, pressure on the Cypriot authorities.

    A classic case of this Cypriot inertia is the seeming evaporation of interest/action against the Christofias’ government as a result of the Mari explosion scandal. What’s happened to the mass demonstrations outside the Presidential Palace?

    Cypriots awake. Get angry, assert your rights and demand change!

    Costas Apacket.

    I echo your comments.

  • Costas Apacket says:

    Well said Philippos.

    Justice applied fairly and consistently for all who live in Cyprus is exactly what we need.

    Giving people legal ownership of their homes is a vital start to this process.

  • Anna says:

    Can somebody tell me what will happen to those people who recently paid money to register their interest in eventually getting their title deeds if this goes ahead? Will they get their money back? This is just a naive hope, of course…

    What about those others busily saving up so they can register their interest by April 2012? Will this still be required?

    Another money-spinner? There are so many!

  • Philippos Anselmou says:

    I hope all these punks called property developers and the government office managers that contact business with them will finally get the PUNCH in the face they deserve. EU PLEASE protect the citizens of Cyprus. We are struggling with all this corruption here. It’s not only the current government. It’s all the governments. Corruption, corruption, corruption. We are tired. I always thought that EU would have more involvement in its member’s laws. Make laws for all member countries. Common, fair laws that will always be applied. This is the only way to ensure the Europe’s integrity. People feel that justice is with them and not to hide their cases because of fear.

  • Richard says:

    It’s a start – so good work!

    Yes – corruption is endemic and yes, some of the activity does resemble a Marx’s brother’s film – but I’d rather have something than nothing.

    And this is something..

  • dave says:

    Can’t afford to buy you all a pint as I will hopefully need all available funds to pay for our deeds —I hope— plus the taxes of course and a few hundred euros for the builders signature, another money spinner —-why should they be allowed to charge for something they have instigated.. Dave.

  • ADRIAN says:

    Well done Mr. O’Hare eventually the government and their cronies have to change. This is the government that is going to take over the EU Presidency!!

  • Brown low says:

    I have no doubt that the government will tell the EU all sorts of platitudes and plans to resolve the situation just to get them off their backs for a while and then as usual they will do nothing! Lets face it the corruption that exists in Cyprus is endemic and is to be found at all levels whether it’s developers or the joke that calls itself the legal profession or a complicit government that emulates a Marx Brother’s movie.
    Brownlow

  • Costas Apacket says:

    Absolutely brilliant Denis & CPAG!

    I know we’re not quite there yet and the ‘Slippery Eel’ is not quite in the bag, but this is a huge stride in the right direction.

    Maybe in future the frequently used Cypriot term ‘My Friend’ will actually mean ‘My Friend’ and not ‘My innocent foreigner just waiting to be mugged’!

  • Robert Briggs says:

    To Mr Denis O’Hare and the CPAG Team/s. Thank you & I would like to buy you all a pint!

  • Gavin Jones says:

    At last. Something tangible and chiefly down to the efforts of Denis, Elizabeth, Nigel and their cohorts. Well done to you for your persistence in this titanic struggle. Doubtless there are several more hoops to be negotiated but it looks as though the Cypriot government, developers, banks and lawyers might just be staring down the barrel of a howitzer. Let’s hope so.

    In the 19th. century, all those involved in this chicanery would have either been hanged or transported in prison ships to Botany Bay. Here’s hoping penalties commensurate with the 21st. century will be applied – or at the very least those who’ve been swindled will obtain their just desserts: in this case, their title deeds.

  • Alan Waring says:

    A big step in the right direction after Commissioner Reding’s previous statements. Well done to Denis O’Hare and supportive MEPs for having persuaded the EU to re-examine things. If the withholding of Title Deeds really is to be outlawed in the EU, I do hope that it will be retrospective to coincide with the first publication of the EU Directive and not ‘from here on’, otherwise all the existing victim buyers relating to Cyprus will still be high and dry.

  • andyp says:

    Well done Denis.

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