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What about the 39,490 Title Deeds?

There are still 39,490 Title Deeds that have not been transferred and it appears that there are many purchasers who are unable or unwilling to pay the unreasonably high property transfer fees.

EARLIER today I received the following email from Andreas Symeou – a former high ranking official at the Department of Lands & Surveys in Nicosia and one of the architects of the Specific Performance Law enacted in 2011..

(Readers who attended the Title Deed seminar organised by the Cyprus Property Action Group at the Elysium Hotel in Paphos in 2009 may recall Mr Symeou, who gave an overview of new legislation being prepared at the time).

“Title Deeds for All”: what about the 39,490 title deeds issued but still standing in the names of developers?

On your front page, one can see a photo of demonstrators with placards saying “All we need is a title deed”, “Property rights and title deeds for all” etc.

Certainly the delay in issuing title deeds is a very serious problem in Cyprus, although it has been alleviated in recent years. An equally similar problem, however, is the fact that thousands of title deeds which have been issued still stand in the names of the developers/sellers.

According to an official statement, the number of title deeds which have yet to be issued by the Land Registry is 23,417. At the same time and more surprisingly, 39,490 of the title deeds which have been issued in recent years have not been transferred in the names of the purchasers. It appears that the main reason for this abnormal situation is the fact that a lot of purchasers are not in a position (or are not willing) to pay the unreasonably high transfer fees (5-8% of the market value, as determined by the land Registry).

In two articles of mine in your site (“Transfer fee reductions could increase public revenue”, published on Tuesday 22nd November 2011 and “Transfer fee discount could be win-win for all”, published on 26th October 2013) I was arguing that a radical reduction on the amount of transfer fees would be beneficial to both the public revenue and the purchasers.

A few days ago the Minister of Interior announced that the Government intends to cut the transfer fees by up to 50%. The decision of the Government is welcomed, but the way the Minister of Interior announced it was wrong. From the moment of the Minister’s announcement, all transactions in the Land Registry have stopped, as the purchasers are waiting the passing of the new legislation. The correct action would be for the government to pass the new Law in absolute secrecy and speed so that the market would not be upset.

It is high time for the Government and the House of Representatives to act rapidly, passing a Law reducing to a minimum the transfer fees. At the same time additional discounts should be given to those purchasers appearing before the Land Registry shortly after the passing of the Law. By this simple and common sense approach both the public revenue and the purchasers will benefit within a short period of time.

Andreas D. Symeou LL.B, M.Sc (U.L.A.), MRICS
Property Consultant
Visiting Lecturer at Neapolis University, Paphos

I called Mr Symeou and we talked about the problems people were facing and that the figure quoted of 39,490 waiting to be transferred could be as a result of a number of other issues:

  • A proportion of those titles cannot be transferred to purchasers because they are burdened with mortgages and/or other impediments which the developer has failed to repay.
  • Some of transfers could be blocked because the developer has not cleared his Immovable Property and Capital Gains tax commitments.
  • It could also be that a purchaser has not paid the whole purchase price to the developer and the developer is refusing to transfer the property.
  • It could also be that the purchaser is in conflict with the developer as the property they purchased has construction issues or is in conflict over another matter.
  • Perhaps the developer is trying to extort money from the purchaser and preventing the transfer until he receives payment.
  • And of course the title deed may be ‘blighted’ as a result of planning irregularities that have been legitimised under the provisions of the Town Planning Amnesty.

So there are a whole host of reasons why there are 39,490 waiting to be transferred, although those unwilling or unable to pay the unreasonably high transfer fees will account for many of them.

We agreed that the figures produced by the Land Registry only told part of the story and further detailed analysis is needed. I plan to pursue this with the stakeholders after parliament’s summer recess.

Readers' comments

Comments on this article are no longer being accepted.

  • @George Constantouris on 2014/07/28 at 11:22 am – Thank you for your comments. I’m starting to think that our politicians do not really know how to deal with the situation; it’s very worrying.

    The problem is that they’ve allowed the issues with the property market to last for too long and appear unable or unwilling to tackle the situation.

  • George Constantouris says:

    As an estate agent in Limassol, I can verify that what Mr. Nigel is saying is correct. Often times I visit a property to list it in my companies books, and when I ask if there is a title deed, I am told they are ready, I just don’t have the money to pay for it. And the seller wishes to wait for a buyer to come so that the deposit received can be used to pay the transfer fees of the previous owner, or simply transfer the newly issued title into the new owner directly.

    As a previous student of Mr. Symeou, I can confidently say that Cyprus needs more professionals like him in our industry and the country would be much better off if it listens to some of his suggestions.

  • Suanne Barrett says:

    I think a lot of the delays are due to being ripped off by lawyers and estate agents. I purchased my property in Deryneia 8 years ago through BuySell who put me on to a lawyer in Paralimini. We paid him a lot of money which was supposed to cover the title deeds as well. He had power of attorney from the vendor we had to pay various bills owed by the vendor property tax water elec etc which he was supposed to pay back out of the money we paid for the apartment. It never happened, every time we went over 5 times in the first year it still had not been done. They are now asking for 3000 euros to do it.

  • @Deanna on 2014/07/20 at 12:43 pm – The law requires the Land Registry to levy Property Transfer Fees based on its assessment of the property’s market value at its date of purchase. Strangely, this is never less than you paid for the property and can often be considerably more.

    This is an attempt to avoid tax fraud in cases where a low price is stated on the Contract of Sale and the balance of the sale price is paid under the table.

    What is annoying and totally illogical is that there is no obligation on the Land Registry to advise you how it calculated the market value of a property.

  • Deanna says:

    To pick-up on one of Mr Symeou’s reasons for people not paying Transfer – when it IS available…….

    Someone should seriously curtail the Land Registry’s open remit to alter the Contract price of the transferring property.

    In my own case, I bought a small shop in Paralimni in 2006. I paid the asking price, and the shop was only on the market for 5 months.

    Thus, I arrived at the LR having worked out how much the Transfer would cost me.

    Yes you know what I’m going to say……….

    They said ‘oh but the property is worth much more now, so this is the price we think it’s worth……’

    And thus, I had to pay their price.

    How do I know where the extra money went – into someone’s back pocket? But it cost me hundreds more than it should.

  • Mike on 2014/07/20 at 11:27 am – The Land Registry has much of the information at its fingertips. The computerised register holds details of properties and any associated encumbrances – it would simply be a matter of an IT whiz kid formulating some enquiries to run on the database. But this would not show whether the vendor has paid his taxes as this information is taken to the Land Registry when the transfer takes place – and the LR would not know of any any conflicts between the vendor and the purchaser. But it would be a damn good start on getting some meaningful figures.

    Do the planners have powers to oppose rogue developers? Yes – but the ‘C’ word is allegedly used to great effect.

  • @mollimoo on 2014/07/20 at 10:26 am – the Title Deed problem has been around for decades and whatever you may think about the troika, they are pushing Cyprus in the right direction. I know that we would all like them to push a little harder, but without them we’d be in an even bigger mess!

  • Mike says:

    Bravo Nigel for highlighting what probably accounts for the majority of non-transfers. Perhaps land Registry should amend their management Information systems in order to be able to capture information which will enable them to identify and address problems rather than just guess.

    One has to ask what Planning Departments actually do in this process other than hinder it. Should they not be ensuring that construction is undertaken in accordance with planning permits and if not demand demolishment. I appreciate the Electricity Authority and Water Authority are generally blinkered and certainly not receptive to change but planners shape the country and supervise its enhancement or destruction. Do they have no powers to oppose rogue developers?

  • mollimoo says:

    Thank goodness for people like you Nigel, working on our behalf. At my age, I can see I probably wont be alive by the time this gets sorted.

  • Stuart says:

    According to the Cyprus MoU, the Cyprus governing authorities should by now, mid-July, have provided to programme partners granular data on the backlog stock of permits, deeds and certificates, plus a strategy identifying ways to reduce this backlog and continue publishing quarterly progress reviews starting Q3-2014, with electronic access to their registers by Q4-2014.

    Apart from those cases simply awaiting the suggested 50% reduction in transfer fees, where is the ‘granular data’ on all the other issues preventing the transfer of titles that should by now have been available together with proposed strategies for reducing the backlog? Perhaps its time for a further revision of the MoU to accommodate this blatant procrastination.

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