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Thursday 16th July 2020
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As safe as houses?

Scam AlertA PROMOTIONAL brochure from a major Cyprus property developer promises potential buyers ‘unique life-long experiences, the building of strong relationships with the human being, along with a combination of security, warmth, and affection towards the family’.

This is the same company that has given an English couple one of the nastiest experiences of their lives: the wife has had a nervous breakdown; the couple has no home and are living in rented accommodation.

They have been intimidated, slandered and bullied. Their life savings have been tied up and they are awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit which, if they lose, will likely render them bankrupt.

John and Mary are decent, honest people but it seems they were too trusting and purchased a home before it was even built. Like thousands of others, they were only too happy to cross their fingers and hope for the best when buying a home sight unseen. Rightly or wrongly they didn’t seem to differentiate between buying a property in Poole and buying one in Polis.

This is a horror story that is sadly not unique in Cyprus.

The couple bought a plot of land and sat down with the developers’ architect to discuss the design of the villa to be built. John and Mary paid their deposit, flew back to the UK and awaited the arrival of the final plans to their dream home.

They were then told that the plot had to be changed, so building work was delayed. They travelled to Cyprus five times in two years, armed only with front and side elevations of the proposed structure, despite having a contract saying plans would be an integral part of the deal.

The second plot proved problematic as the structure would not fit into the new area and there was a further delay.

The developer then insisted on more money up front, with the sales manager ‘walking’ the couple over to the bank where they were asked for a cheque.

John refused to issue any money until they had seen the long-awaited final plans. They were then informed that if they pulled out of the deal the chances of getting back the £24,000 they had paid for the land would be slim.

John and Mary found themselves in a quandary: they couldn’t go back on the deal and the developer wasn’t going to go forward. They paid a further lump sum.

The sum was written as a ‘supplementary fee’ for all the problems the developer had incurred during the plot changes. John and Mary were in effect paying the developer to correct his own mistakes.

We were concerned with the developer’s practices at that stage but we weren’t as streetwise as we are now. Every meeting we went to was very pressurised – almost intimidating.

“We wanted the villa in that area, on that land and we couldn’t afford to walk away from the deposit. The developer’s lawyers reassured us that all would be fine, so we carried on, but it only got worse not better.

After moving into the supposedly completed property, it was nowhere near finished.

Live wires were hanging from the ceiling, doors were not fitted properly, a two-metre drop outside the front door was dangerous. There was no wheelchair ramp as was agreed. Instead there were four high steps.

An English independent architect then told John his villa was actually illegal as the foundations were at least one metre too deep, so instead of a gentle slope down to the front gate there was a ski slope.

A swimming pool was John’s next project. He went and received quotes from the developer and local pool suppliers, the latter came in at around £10,000. The developer’s quote exceeded £18,000.

John was told that if he went with any local company, the workers would be thrown off the property by the developer.

John and Mary returned to the UK and flew back a few months later to discover the new swimming pool had partially sunk into the ground, and the retaining wall had large cracks. It appears the developer had underpinned the pool with trees, which had rotted and caused the pool to collapse.

From checking his enormous water bill John worked out that 500 litres a week were leaking. It was then that Mary had a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalised.

John then moved out of the property into rented accommodation.

The water had leaked under the retaining wall, which had existing cracks from bad workmanship – and it was now cracking even more,” he said.

But worse was the fear that 30,000 gallons of water in the pool would crash down the hillside along with 20 square metres of concrete. This would be akin to a tsunami hitting houses below.

That’s when I went to find an independent lawyer and a structural engineer.

John tried to hire 10 lawyers within the locality. None would take on the case, saying they had a conflict of interest as regards the developer.

In eight separate instances, lawyers said “they could not take on such a giant in the building business” as their livelihood would be affected.

They all said sorry because they had work from the developer. That’s what he does. He gives a little work to a lot of people,” said John.

I am 68 and feel 78. At one stage I felt like taking my life. It was that bad.

Seven calls were made to local civil engineers, all of whom declined to make an independent survey for the court case, again citing fears of reprisals.

The developer has said he would take our case to the wire until I couldn’t afford to carry on. But this isn’t going to work,” John added.

John got the name of a good lawyer outside the area and has since found a civil engineer.

The new lawyer discovered that John will never gain title deeds to his property, as the original plans on construction of the property from the town planning office were not followed – in other words the structure built is illegal.

It is now estimated that John will need more than £30,000 to make the villa safe and habitable and that does not include a new swimming pool.

It has taken John and Mary two but they will go to any legal lengths to win this battle.

We love Cyprus and we love the people but I’d never buy another house here.

I will rent and I would put anyone off buying a house, certainly off-plan and certainly put them off trusting developers,” said John.

It has made me bitter and I’m not a bitter man.

Need some advice?

PROPERTY Lawyers Abroad Network (PLAN) is an organisation that works with dual qualified property lawyers in more than 25 countries popular with UK buyers and offers greater consumer protection.

PLAN offers its clients the security of UK-level conveyancing standards, including regular email updates on case progress, a UK-based escrow service and negligence cover through the law society.

This is all for an administrative fee of 15 per cent on top of the standard conveyancing fees. Without such a service buyers can find themselves at the mercy of lawyers who may offer a poor service or even misappropriate funds, and against whom there is little chance of redress, says managing director Michael Masterson.

Even in some of the more established property markets, the safeguards are minimal. As far as I am aware, for example, there has never been a successful negligence claim brought against a Spanish lawyer,” he says.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2007



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