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Armou homes on verge of collapse

A development of six houses at Armou in Paphos that were built on a hillside in 2004 are now in a critical condition as they are likely to collapse completely if it rains heavily this winter.

DESPITE the promise of help from the Paphos district office seven months ago, residents of a small housing development which is rapidly sliding down a hillside in Armou, say nothing has been done.

The Sunday Mail first highlighted the dire plight of the homeowners in March.

The six houses which make up the development in the picturesque village are still moving down the hillside and are likely to collapse completely if rains are heavy this winter. One of the houses has already been deemed unfit for habitation and has been condemned.

A number of the homeowners have issued court proceedings against the developer. All of the houses, which were only built in 2004, have serious structural problems, from slanting floors, to the partial collapse of stairs, walls, swimming pools and patio areas. Outside drains are exposed in one garden and retaining walls have split.

The estate was constructed on land locals had long been warned was unsafe.

One of the access roads to the development is currently impassable and although a second road was repaired, large cracks have again appeared.

The developer responsible for the estate is JNM, but despite repeated efforts, the Sunday Mail has been unable to contact them.

Geoff and Maggie Higgs, owners of one of the stricken homes, were forced to leave their ‘dream home’ a few months ago as they no longer felt safe. They are currently lodging with friends in the UK.

Only two homes are now occupied, one by Simon Phillips, his wife and two children. The Higgs’ daughter, Sian Sparrow, her husband and two children are renting a house next to theirs to keep an eye on her parents’ property.

The Sparrows had previously been renting the house on the estate which has now been condemned.

“We moved into the initial property in April 2011, and nearly a year later during the terrible weather, we noticed massive cracks appearing in the house and the outside areas. The house was also at a noticeable slant. Everything happened so quickly, the condition of the house deteriorated massively in just a couple of weeks,” Jason Sparrow told the Sunday Mail:

The family was forced to leave the property, which was declared unfit for habitation but decided to move into another house on the estate.

“We were told by a surveyor that the current house we are renting – which is Number 5 on the estate – would be ‘the last one to go’,” Sparrow said.

Until recently, according to the couple, the property had remained relatively unaffected by the shifting land. But, they pointed out that following just two days of recent rain, cracks had appeared in the swimming pool.

Another homeowner, Graham Slyper, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last November and is currently based in the UK. He says he had been hoping to spend the remainder of his life at his home in Armou, but he believes the likelihood of this happening now is slim.

Speaking whilst visiting his property on a trip from the UK a few weeks ago, he said: “the cracks in my house have opened up further in the last few days of rain. They were measuring about 6cms and now they are about 9cm. The pool has cracked, and I’ve got the pool people here trying to stop the water leaking out of it.”

“It’s terrifying; we are all worried about what is happening,” said Maggie Higgs who was also on a visit from the UK.

Permanent resident Phillips said he was particularly worried with winter approaching. “None of us are able to sleep properly and we’re fearful our homes may collapse,” he said.

“We have been told when it rains if we have a winter like last year, we could see the whole development go in a matter of hours. This is a beautiful village and a fantastic spot but it’s turned into a nightmare.”

A report by the president of Paphos’ architects and civil engineers association, Chrysostomos Italos was completed in June and has been handed over to the legal advisers of the homeowners. Italos places the blame firmly on the developer.

Italos visited the site again last week. “I inspected the entire estate and the site is moving. Something has to be done. I am waiting for the district office to take action and protect the area,” he said.

“I am very concerned that if we have a bad winter, the houses will collapse.”

Italos has suggested a number of measures which if implemented quickly could still save the development. These included a drainage system and an underground system to take away water and special supports.

“It will be very expensive and I would not suggest the owners do it, and it’s not their responsibility. The entire area needs to be made safe, not just individual houses. The developer or the government must carry out these works.”

Tragically for the residents, it appears as if the area where their houses were built, just below the church in the picturesque village, was well-known among locals as being unsafe.

“Everyone in the village knows that below the church isn’t a safe place to build. When I was a small boy, I was told to be careful of this area and not to go there in bad weather,” Armou mukhtar, Panikos Hadjitheoris previously told the Sunday Mail.

Evagoros Andreou, of the Paphos district office planning permits department has visited the housing estate and sent the developer a number of letters.

“We recently met with him and I can’t make any further comment as we are still examining the situation,” he said.

He said he and members of the geological department would visit the estate again next week. “I cannot give any further information yet as too what action we will take, but it will be in accordance with parameters indicated by the law.”

According to Italos, the district office can take a number of different steps.

“As the development has still not been signed off and is still in the developer’s name, they will be asked to verify that all the works were carried out according to the permits,” he said.

More disturbingly, the district office could even act against the homeowners, as they are living in properties which do not have certificates – even thought they are not responsible – and this is against the law, he said.

Italos offered a glimmer of hope though.

“In some other areas I know of, the district office has carried out the repairs themselves and then taken the developer to court to claim the money back. I am hoping that the district office of Paphos will do this with the developer responsible for the site in Armou.”

The homeowners pointed out that the problem is steadily worsening, with houses above the development also slipping down the hillside.

The group is understandably angry, upset and under immense stress.

“We sold everything in England to come here for a dream life, but the reality is I’m not far away from having to tell my children that we don’t have a home. I carry that weight around with me. I don’t know what I would do if we couldn’t live here anymore,” said Phillips.

Geoff Higgs added: “When you get to 67 years of age, you’ve worked all of your life, paid off your mortgage, sold up, come to Cyprus, been advised by lawyers, paid money for your property and it’s been snatched away from you, it’s too stressful and agonising to express.”

“If nothing is done, soon we will literally be homeless,” his wife added.

Readers' comments

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  • Richard Knowles says:

    “You get an idiot to build you a house, you get a lousy house.” R Knowles

  • andyp says:

    Thanks for that Denton. I half expected as much and confirms my suspicion that a court action against anyone in the professions is just a waste of time and money.

    The more you dig into the reality of buying property in Cyprus the more problems and difficulties one encounters.

  • Denton Makrell says:

    The requirement for designated professions in Cyprus to take out and maintain professional indemnity insurance (PI) policies only started in 2004. However, as you might guess, it sounds grander than it is.

    First, the minimum cover required (if there is one) is not in the public domain here. From various discussions, I suspect that many individuals take out cover for paltry amounts, perhaps Euro 100,000-200,000. For comparison, in the UK medics and lawyers normally take out a minimum of GBP5-10m cover,as stipulated by their respective professional bodies. For engineers and other professions, the cover is typically GBP 1m upwards for one-man-band consultants and very often GBP 2-5m. So, in Cyprus a defendant would be unlikely to withstand a hefty claim. Perhaps they are just chancers?

    Second, the insurance market in Cyprus is tiny and has no real PI component or experience in it, so typically the local broker or carrier will re-insure in London or Munich – at a hefty on-cost to the insured. In my case, I just by-passed the Cyprus market and went direct to a specialist broker in London for a tailor-made policy at one third of the premium cost quoted by brokers/carriers in Cyprus. Few professionals in Cyprus are aware of this option.

  • andyp says:

    If it is ultimately the responsibility of the developer’s engineers and geologists for this are they required by law to have professional indemnity insurance in respect of which victims can lodge a claim?

    I know lawyers were only required to have insurance over the last 2 or 3 years, whether or not many of them do is another matter.

  • andyp says:

    “The simplest thing would be to ban construction in unsafe areas – or ensure that the plans took ground conditions into account before issuing building permits.”

    I thought that was a “given” Nigel, but obviously not.

    You certainly learn something everyday regarding property development in Cyprus and not much of it is comforting.

  • @Adrian – please see my earlier comment.

    It is the engineers and geologists engaged by developers who are responsible for ensuring the stability of any structure and its surrounding area – not the Planning Authority.

  • Adrian says:

    The big question is, why did the Paphos planning dept. give permission to build on what seems to have been an unstable area and has that individual been investigated for any wrong doing??

    I doubt it very much and when they do track down the individuals responsible the courts will drag the process out. Tell me if I am wrong or cynical !!

  • @andyp – Many problems could be avoided if the law were enforced. Having a Certificate of Final Completion would not have prevented the problems with these houses.

    I made some enquiries years ago when this happened somewhere else. According to the Cyprus Geological Survey Department, engineers and geologists engaged by developers are responsible for ensuring the stability of any structure and its surrounding area. If problems arise, buyers must pursue their case through the courts.

    The simplest thing would be to ban construction in unsafe areas – or ensure that the plans took ground conditions into account before issuing building permits.

  • andyp says:

    A nightmare for all those affected by this.

    Whilst I am not saying this is typical, in fact I hope not, would buyers even be in this situation if the industry was properly regulated and buyers had certificates of final completion prior to occupation?

    Had Government been enforcing it’s own Streets and Buildings Regulations Act and buyers been advised by their Lawyers of the illegality of occupying a home without one many problems of a planning and building nature could easily have been avoided.

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