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Expats form property action group

A GROUP of expats has got together to help fight the growing problems in Cyprus’ property market. Fed up with reports from disgruntled property buyers who have been run through the mill and come out the other side poorer and disgusted and disappointed, they have decided that enough is enough. The Cyprus Property Action Group […]

A GROUP of expats has got together to help fight the growing problems in Cyprus’ property market. Fed up with reports from disgruntled property buyers who have been run through the mill and come out the other side poorer and disgusted and disappointed, they have decided that enough is enough.

The Cyprus Property Action Group was formed after a meeting in Peyia on April 12 this year, which was held to discuss common problems which arise when purchasing property in Cyprus.

The group was formed by Linda LeBlanc, the first-non Cypriot, naturalised citizen to be elected to a municipal post in the country.

She is also the first female councillor in the Peyia Municipality. The other members are David Bell, a resident and businessman based in Peyia, who has lived in Cyprus for 14 years, Denis O’Hare, who has been retired in Peyia for 11 years and Nigel Howarth, who is well-known as a property advisor, helping people avoid being duped into making bad property decisions.

Serious

It’s clear when meeting with these people and speaking with them that there are many, many serious problems with the property industry in Cyprus.

It’s also clear though, that they are not just another bunch of “whingeing ex-pats” who like a good moan.

Rather, they want to work with the authorities to help clear up the evident mess that has arisen and to help people in the best possible, logical way within the law to sort out their problems.

“We don’t want to upset or antagonise anyone, we also don’t want to engage in any kind of protests or stagings of any kind. We just want to work with the right people to get things right; we believe in Cyprus as much as anyone else here and want to ensure that it keeps attracting people to invest and live here,” explains the group.

Driving through the now-concrete infested, once beautiful area of Peyia, it’s evident how much has been done illegally and how companies display complete disregard for both the laws of the land, as well as the much stronger laws of nature.

The first thing that grabbed my attention, was a three story building which is being constructed on a landfill, which just happens to be in a huge river bed. There are no signs on the fence around the building, stating who the company is – this is law in Cyprus – the engineer, architect and construction company’s name have to be prominently displayed.

Then there are the blue garbage bags and sliding sand which are clearly under the building. The questions beg to be asked – how did whoever is building this get any sort of planning permission and building rights?

Then there’s a leading developer who demolished his own complex of villas on a cliff edge to put up three apartment blocks.

Firstly, he had neither planning permission nor building permits when he started the apartment blocks.

Secondly, the blocks are four storeys high – the law clearly states that Peyia is only allowed two stories, due to the high earthquake risk.

Buildings are also allowed to only be 8.3m. These, by admission of the developer, are over 10m.
But that’s not all – the house of the person behind the complex has been damaged.

I went with him to the site, and he showed how his retaining wall had been taken out from underneath by the builders.

When I asked one of the people on site what happened to the wall, his answer was “it must be the roots of the tree that has damaged the wall.”

Lawyers

Another huge problem in the property industry is some of the lawyers. It’s apparent that certain lawyers are not here to look after the interests of the buyers, but are apparently in the pockets of the developers and agents. Of course, what you could do, as the same leading developer mentioned above suggests in their corporate literature is work with their own in-house legal department.

They say: “Once you have chosen your property the procedure is relatively simple…we have our own Legal Department…which will prepare all the paperwork and explain all the procedures in English…”

One of the members of the Cyprus Property Action Group is taking this company to the High Court in Cyprus at his own expense and is prepared to pursue this case all the way to the European Court of Law if justice is not served in his case.

In fact, it was even mentioned that a local municipality is taking this company to task legally over their building practices.

First stage

Another hot potato is the infamous “Certificate of Final Approval.” According to official legislation this “article 10 of the Streets and Building Regulations Law, Cap 96, provides that no person shall occupy, use or permit any other person to occupy or use any building, unless and until a certificate of approval has been issued in respect thereof by the appropriate authority.”

Obviously this is government law – but it seems like some companies and organisations are above the law. One developer, in response to a worried query from a client regarding eviction, sent an official letter on a company letterhead which clearly reads: “The above said legislation, although in force, in practice is inoperative….We believe that the majority of Cypriot house owners do not have the said Completion Certificate, will the appropriate authority prosecute all Cypriot house owners? We doubt it…” It goes on to say “the Completion Certificate is a necessary requirement of the procedure of issuing separate title deeds.”

Ah, but it seems, that there’s the rub. Because some people have been waiting for between five and 40 years for their title deeds…that means you have paid for the house, you’ve put your lifesavings, have a mortgage, invested your retirement money in a property you might wish to leave to your children, dog or the Dalai Lama and even though you’ve paid for your piece of paradise, it simply isn’t yours.

Website

A prime example of the necessity of the Completion Certificate can be found on the group’s website, where a Paphos-based religious establishment decided to develop some of its land. The buyers relay their experience: “We signed a Contract of Purchase to secure a two-bedroom house in a complex of 22 houses under construction in Armou, in the hills north of Paphos. This document stated that Title Deeds would be issued in four years. The construction had been underway for barely three months and was built on good solid sandstone rock”.

So far so good, until they found out “in 2005 from the District Officer that because the most important document for any construction in Cyprus the Certificate of Final Completion had not been obtained by the religious establishment that they were living in the house illegally and were common criminals.”

As a result, legal action is being taken against them by the authorities.

And over and above this, the establishment has also taken out a mortgage on the properties for £850,000.

Duped

It’s due to problems such as these that the Cyprus Property Action Group has been formed. They want to help people who have been duped, lied to, stolen from and experienced all these malpractices in a positive and constructive way by working with, rather than against, the authorities.

They are working with Cypriot legal advisers Andreas Neocleous and Co. as well as trying to meet with the Ministry of the Interior, under whose department planning permits and Completion Certificates are issued. “Cyprus is our home, we live here; we just want to make sure that we protect and help the situation, before it becomes totally out of hand.”

“The property bubble will burst if too many people start talking about this and while we have been contacted by mainstream UK press and media, we don’t want to expose this on that kind of level as we don’t want this to turn into another Spain.”

To find out more, help the group or register your problems, visit www.cyprus-property-action-group.net.

Copyright © Cyprus Weekly 2007

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