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Fight for justice in Pissouri ordeal

British High Commissioner, Matthew Kidd, visited affected residents in the devastated Limnes (lakes) area of Pissouri and is reported to have said he will intercede with government.

Damage to Pissouri resident's bedroom

Damage caused to Peter Field’s bedroom – photo credit: Cyprus Mail

CRACKS are opening in walls, water pipes bursting and electrical pipes tearing apart as the land moves beneath houses in the Limnes (lakes) area of Pissouri.

Three families have been evicted in the past year amid fears their homes might collapse because of the severity of the land slippage, but many more houses also appear at risk while residents accuse officials of dragging their feet and passing the buck. Another couple has simply left their house and gone back to the UK.

Matthew Kidd said to intercede with government

Many in the village are retired Britons who are now pinning their hopes on the British High Commissioner, Matthew Kidd. He visited the village in the Pissouri area on Friday to see the damage for himself and is said to have told residents he will intercede with the government.

Otherwise a battle for compensation in the courts could take years – and many of the Britons are elderly.

Although initially the government had seemed to take responsibility for the mess in 2015, it has since backtracked and made no mention of compensating affected homeowners.

British homeowners in Limni are not alone in complaining that officials are dismissive of their plight.

The most recent family to be evicted was Pandelis Karayannis, who received his eviction notice from the district office in March.

“I told the man (from the district office) that was handing me the paper, what am I supposed to do now? Where should I go? I have a wife and two kids. I don’t have a job,” Karayannis told the Sunday Mail.

“Do you know what he told me? He said ‘that’s your problem’.”

In the meantime, there appear to be no plans for what will happen to the remaining residents in the area which, according to the interior ministry, has been undermined by underground water close to the surface.

Although the town planning department found 60 properties with cracks in the walls, there are 14 houses and a complex of 28 apartments that have been particularly seriously affected and are seeking support from the state, according to lawyer Georgia Elina Zoi.

She has taken on their case “not to battle out in court but to find a solution on a political level with the government”, she said.

Unemployed since last November, Karayannis says the injustice has cost his family dearly.

“We found a place to rent for €450. My wife’s salary is €700. How are we supposed to get by?”

Further compounding the problem is that Karayannis is supposed to be paying off his mortgage for a house he can no longer inhabit. An agreement has been reached with the bank where he is currently not paying his instalments but the interest continues to pile up, Zoi told the Sunday Mail.

“I bought the house about five and a half years ago for about €200,000. Today, the value at the bank is €7,600,” he said.

Several affected property owners have grouped together since July 2015, to form the Pissouri Housing Initiative Group (PHIG). Chaired by Peter Fields, he told the Sunday Mail that they formed the group after he and his wife left Cyprus for a holiday “and the house was fine, but then when we came back it was full of cracks.”

Eviction notices issued

Fields was one of the three families that received an eviction notice and rents a house nearby. He told the Sunday Mail the third person that was evicted was a widow whose family helped pool together some money to help her buy a new place.

In April, PHIG commissioned engineer Dr Gareth J Hearn to do a study on the ground behaviour problems affecting the residential area of Limnes. Outlining that 2012 was the wettest year on record since 1974, and the winter of 2011 and 2012 the third wettest, he decided that it was “most likely that this rainfall, possibly combined with runoff from urban areas, leakages from water supply pipes and discharges from residential properties, played a significant role in triggering the ground behaviour problems observed.”

Nevertheless, the soil is not the principal reason for the damage as the displacement is lateral (downslope) rather than vertical, his report outlined.

“It is considered implausible that these phenomena can be attributed to any cause other than ground movement associated with slope instability.”

Gareth said a landslide had occurred twice, one in ancient times and one more recently that caused a failure within the surface layers at about 10 – 15 metres deep.

The heavy rainfall in 2011 and 2012, reactivated this movement and although it was probably small, it was “sufficient to trigger regressive slope failure” he said.

Since PHIG was formed, the group has been to parliament twice to outline the problems they face, according to Fields but nothing has come of it.

“Our aim is to get justice for the people whose houses are falling down,” he said this week.

Kidd’s visit has made residents feel “delighted that someone actually came to see the situation”, Fields said.

Kidd met with affected home owners, visiting their residences and according to Fields will arrange to meet with Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides to discuss their plight.

“He saw the extent of the damage, he saw the homes and now has a totally clear picture.”

According to Zoi, the affected residents are seeking a form of compensation. The majority of the houses are British owned and thus don’t have access to the bank system.

“At least half of them are too old to wait for another house to be built. They would be interested in another house bought for them,” she said.

“Different cases can be handled in a different way so we can come up with a just settlement for everyone. We don’t want to burden the state but we believe that everyone bought a house and they deserve to have a safe house to live in until the end of their lives.”

Following the resignation of former interior minister Socratis Hasikos in May, the residents feel that the process is now taking longer.

“In the army, when we had a new commander, he had 24 hours to be fully briefed. Over here, it seems to be an excuse to say ‘well he’s new, he needs time’,” Fields said.

In 2015, when the problems first appeared, everything looked more promising. Hasikos had announced plans to put measures in place that could resolve the problem and said projects designed to channel rain water away from the area would be expanded. New wells were also set to be drilled to monitor the underground water.

Hasikos: Government to pay for the mess

More importantly, Hasikos had attributed responsibilities to state surveyors for wrongly assessing that the ground was suitable for building and said the government would pay for the mess, with MPs quoting a cost of €20m.

Earlier this year, this changed when an investigation by the interior ministry put the blame on contractors saying, for instance, they had used inadequate filling-in works.

Zoi however argues this is a ploy by the ministry to avoid offering compensation

“They say that the retired British home-owners should move legally against the engineers who designed their houses 20-30 years ago. We can’t find everyone – the oldest one is either retired or dead.”

Additionally, litigation would take six to eight years and be very costly to the home owners, she said.

“All that, because the government doesn’t want to admit that we have a landslide and pretends that all engineers ‘wrongly assessed the ground’s endurance, didn’t take into account the type of soil and didn’t use foundation piles’.”

The interior ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment by the Sunday Mail.

Attempts by Pissouri community council to offer a little help in the form of a small stipend to the evicted families have also fallen flat.

Pissouri community offered financial support

Pissouri community council leader Lazaros Lazarou told the Sunday Mail that a year ago, around the time when the first eviction notice was served in February 2016, the council had voted in favour of giving €300 every month to anyone affected.

“At the time it was only one family, but we knew there would be more to follow,” he said.

Limassol district blocked financial support

The motion however was rejected by the Limassol district office which said the council’s decision did not comply with the law, Nicoletta Gavrilidou who has been dealing with the case at the district office told the Sunday Mail.

On Thursday, the town council notified some of the residents that work would begin next week on one of the roads and pavements, said Katherine Yeomans, who lives in the area.

“Right now, the road is a mess, you can see cracks in it. They filled it about six months ago but within a few weeks it had opened up again. The pavements are really dangerous as well.”

Yeomans, along with her husband Jeremy, moved into their Pissouri home in January 2015 after leaving the UK.

Although their home was built in 2006, it wasn’t until a few years ago that cracks began to appear in the walls.

Now the house is an entirely different state.  “Pipes are bursting, the pool is completely collapsing in itself, electrical wires are being pulled apart,” she said.

“Nobody wants to help.”

They’ve spent thousands in repairs, but have now given up.

“When we moved here, we thought this would be our dream home. Now it’s our worst nightmare,” she said. “It’s heart-breaking for us and the people that have to move.”

Moving back to the UK is not an option for the couple as they cannot afford it and sold everything before moving here.

“I have enormous regret. It’s the worst thing we ever did.”

Even worse, even if they lose their house, their mortgage will still need to be repaid, Yeomans said.

Pissouri landslips

A catastrophic landslip at the eastern end of Pissouri occurred several years ago, resulting in a number of homes being demolished.

Anyone approaching Pissouri from the east on the highway can clearly see the massive scar of the remedial work undertaken in efforts to prevent any further land slippage in the area.

Readers' comments

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  • Antony Walker says:

    Mike Rolfe: tin the case of Limnes, to what fraud are you referring?

  • Mike Rolfe says:

    My experience of Cyprus confirms that National and Local Authorities work hand in glove with these developers. Completion Certificates are signed by senior Authority officers that building works have been carried out in accordance with Local Authority building permits when nothing could be further from the truth.

    When things go wrong and fraud is uncovered there is a lot of hot air blown by Ministry officials. The Officials may say ‘sorry, these things should not happen, we will make sure buildings are stabilised and repaired and that you are fully compensated’. Unfortunately, the sympathy is not matched by actions.

    It is evident that the developers have great deal of influence over Ministry/Local Authority officers, especially when it comes to exposing fraud and corruption. Developers will continue to get away with dangerous inferior construction works whilst the Ministry of the Interior and Local Authorities knowingly allow them to do so.

  • Antony Walker says:

    Mr Davis, what developer? There is no “developer”. Limnes is an area of homes built between 1985 and 2008. Different homes designed by different architects and engineers, built by different builders at different times on different sites. The problem in Limnes is geological not design or construction.

  • "U" Bend says:

    Re Mr Davis.

    Over the area concerned there are numerous developers over almost 30 years, different designs and different independent engineers reports state the buildings are well built but all homes failed at the same time, from 2015.

    Think again re your taxes and consider instead a government which allowed building in such a most unsuitable area and now seems to be looking the other way.

  • steve r says:

    Do these judges know the laws set out in Cyprus. Every time they pass a judgment some lawyer states that its against the constitution. Surely these judges must know their job and therefore know the constitution. False hope are given out by these people.

  • Peter Davis says:

    The developer will already have spent his profit and he and his family will have had a good life on the back of other people’s misery.

    Now they want my taxes to make good?

    I don’t pay taxes so that dishonest and poor workmanship can be put right. My taxes should go towards running the Country not a band-aid for sloppy workmanship.

    Ed: It appears unlikely that the land slippage is the fault of the developer. Many of the affected properties were built more than 20 years ago and suffered no problems until the land slipped.

  • "U" Bend says:

    Here in Limnes Pissouri The Government workers from Limassol will repair the same area of pavements and road and after a few months it will break up again.

    They will then return and again carry out repairs, sort of banging ones head against a wall and seemingly to take pleasure in doing so. Certainly no progress, as the Government will not make a decision regarding a lasting solution to the slope instability that exists.

  • Antony Walker says:

    The repairs to roads and pavements due to begin next week will be a waste of time, effort and money. The problem is one of slope instability I.e. landslide. Unless the area is stabilised all remedial works will be pointless.

  • Pippa says:

    For heavens sake when will this rotten government get a bit of humanity and stop lining the pockets of the banks, lawyers and developers.

    They expect to be treated as Europeans, well folks, act like Europeans not just taking the money and lining pockets but putting into practice property laws and practices that most European countries have had in place for decades.

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