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European Commission replies to property complaints

The Civil Justice Directorate of the European Commission has replied to numerous letters of complaint it has received concerning Cyprus property developers and unfair commercial practices.

NUMEROUS letters have been sent the European Commission Vice-president and commissioner responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, Viviane Reding, complaining about the unfair practices of the property industry in Cyprus.

Recently, many of those complained have received a reply from the Civil Justice Directorate of the EC:

Dear

Thank you for your letter informing Vice-President Reding about the prejudice suffered by you and many other immovable property buyers because of the practices of Cypriot developers, lawyers and banks, and apologies for our belated reply.

Let me first assure you that the European Commission takes the Cypriot situation very seriously.

Although matters of real estate property ownership are primarily within the remit of the Member States and are regulated by their national contract laws, there may be Union legislation applicable to the practices described.

On the one hand, Directive 2005/29/EC on unfair commercial practices985 (the “UCPD”) prevents traders from engaging in misleading and aggressive commercial practices. Its provisions require that traders operate in accordance with professional diligence and that they do not distort the economic behaviour of consumers by inducing them to enter transactions they would not have entered otherwise. Whilst the failure to transfer legal ownership cannot, in itself, be regarded as unfair in all circumstances, such as the practices clearly spelled out under the Annex I of the UCPD (the so called “black” list), whether it nonetheless amounts to an unfair practice in the specific cases at stake is an assessment which should be primarily carried out by competent national authorities and courts, taking into account the applicable national laws regulating real estate property matters.

This being said, the European Commission considers that the lack of pre-contractual information to property buyers about the existence of developers’ mortgages on the Cypriot properties offered for sale is an aspect which can be assessed in the light of Article 7 of the UCPD concerning misleading omissions.

It should however be noted that the UCPD came into application on 12 December 2007, therefore its provisions are not applicable to transactions made before this date.

On the other hand, Directive 84/450/EEC concerning misleading advertising986 was applicable to business-to-consumer relations until the entry into application of the UCPD. This Directive protects consumers against misleading advertising, defined as “any advertising which, in any way, including its presentation, deceives or is likely to deceive the persons to whom it is addressed or whom it reaches and which, by reason of its deceptive nature, is likely to affect their economic behaviour”.

I would also like to draw you attention to Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts987, which provides that contract terms should be written in a plain and intelligible language and that a contract term causing a significant imbalance between the parties to the detriment of the consumer shall be regarded as unfair and as such shall not be binding.

Both Directives are applicable to transactions made after May 2004, i.e. after Cyprus joined the European Union.

Cross-border misleading practices and unfair terms fall under the competence of the EU-wide enforcement network established by the Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation988. This Regulation establishes a network of enforcement authorities and empowers them to detect, investigate and stop such infringements. In this regard, the national enforcement authority of your country of residence may be able to request further investigation from their Cypriot counterparts.

Should you live in the United Kingdom, I would therefore recommend that you report your case to the British competent authority, whose contact details are the following:

Office of Fair Trading
Fleetbank House
2-6 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8JX
E-mail: enquiries@oft.gsi.gov.uk
Website: http://www.oft.gov.uk

If your place of residence is located in another Member State, you will be able to find the contact details of your national competent authority using the following link and after clicking on the relevant country:

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/empowerment/cons_ networks_ en.htm

Following previous exchanges of correspondence, the European Commission has sent a request for information to the Cypriot authorities, enquiring as to the actions carried out at national level to address the reported practices and to ensure an appropriate protection of EU consumers.

The reply of the Cypriot authorities, received mid January, is now being thoroughly analysed. Should the information communicated be unsatisfactory, the European Commission will act to ensure its compliance and the protection of EU citizens and consumers, as appropriate.

However, I would like to emphasise that the enforcement of Directive 2005/29/EC, Directive 84/450/EEC and Directive 93/13/EEC is primarily the responsibility of the competent national courts and/or public enforcement authorities. In addition, aspects related to the consequences of illegal practices, such as, for instance, compensation for breaches of national contract law concerning real estate matter and/or abuse of public powers in relation to building permits remain mainly regulated by national law and should hence be brought to the attention of the national competent courts.

Yours sincerely,

 

Veronica Manfredi
Head of Unit

                               

985 OJ L 149, 11.6.2005, p. 22
986 OJ L 250, 19.9.1984, p. 17
987 OJ L 095, 21.4.1993, p. 29
988 OJ L 364 of9.12.2004, p. 1

Commission europeenne, B-1 049 Bruxelles / Europese Commissie, B-1 049 Brussel -Belgium. Telephone: (32-2) 299 11 11.
Office M059 04/42. Telephone: direct line (32-2) 2993772. Fax: (32-2) 2967669.
E-mail: sophie.ridoux@ec.europa.eu

Readers' comments

Comments on this article are no longer being accepted.

  • Andrew says:

    Praise and positive comment are given when the topic deserves such praise. It is difficult to see anything particularly positive in this article. Sure Ms Reding has given the matter some consideration. That is what she is paid to do.

    Instruct Cyprus to Issue Title Deeds to all those who have paid for their homes and I am sure you will be able to hear the applause all over the island.

    Meanwhile some of these comments may serve to deter others from falling foul of the property market in Cyprus as it now stands.

  • Denton Mackrell says:

    @Curmudgeon. Ok it would be really nice to report that things are going spiffingly. Regrettably, they are not. Admission of the existence of a problem and its scale, dimensions and causes is the first step in its resolution. Denial, whistling in the dark and waiting for a lucky break may be more comforting for some but they do not even get you on the road to anywhere let alone resolution.

  • mbEyes says:

    @Denton Mackrell @Richard

    I understand wht you are saying Richard, and you’re so right. Denton, you’re right as well, but what use is all the negativity espoused here? None.

    Why not work together by formulating practical ways forward, instead of just carping on about our situation.

    Here’s a start: Fighting For Justice is approaching the UK courts to see whether any headway can be made there; perhaps someone (Nigel?) could help show us how to make a claim, and for what, also in the UK courts.

    In addition, how about us, as a group effort, swamping the OFT with our complaints? Just a thought or two.
    We know the EU is not able to help as regulation of our problems will always be down to the individual member states. I think the only major way of getting anywhere will be by taking a test case to the European Court of Human Rights and trusting that we win. Another practical thing to be done here is set up a fighting fund so that the test case is possible, unless there can be found a suitable situation where the complainants can get legal aid.

  • Gavin Jones says:

    Richard.

    Like Denton Mackrell, I’m really confused.

    You quite rightly praise the actions of your grandfather in opposing a despot by actively doing something about it. However, in the same breath you can’t understand why people take appropriate action when THEY’VE been wronged: different circumstances but same principled stand as your grandfather.

    In this article’s context, purchasers of real estate have been lied to and swindled because a state, Cyprus, condones the illegal, underhand practices of certain developers, banks and lawyers.

    With due acknowledgement to George Orwell, perhaps you’re of the opinion that all iniquities are equal but when it suits some are more equal than others.

  • Curmudgeon says:

    @Richard & @Denton Mackrell

    Denton, I accept Richards comments and understand his direction. It is demoralising and daunting to continue reading negative comments time after time. Regardless of heading, it appears the same people just repeat themselves. No disrespect intended, but that is how it appears.

    Rarely you read a new entry or one that has a positive angle to it unless Nigel is the author.

    We all know what has happened, we all know we’ve been stitched up and we all know who the perpetrators are.

    On another front, some intel on the people responsible would be useful.

  • Denton Mackrell says:

    @Richard. So, what are you saying then? On the one hand, you’re saying that we should all just shut up, stop complaining and accept that we are the victims of a JCE (joint criminal enterprise). On the other hand, you’re saying that we should all do as our ancestors did that made Britain great. Er… I think you’ll find that it was not rolling over to have their tummies tickled by baddies overseas who had been shafting Brits. Gunboat diplomacy and exemplary punishment were the order of the day.

    In today’s more civilized society we have to rely on the protection of the EU. Sadly, it is illusory protection – just fine words devoid of any means to enforce it.

    So, if neither gunboat diplomacy nor the EU Commission can protect us, what is your practical solution? Simply deny that the problem is as bad as it is? Hope that somehow the bad guys will suddenly see the light and become models of probity? Hope that we can negotiate something less bad with the JCE? Hope that over time (how long?) the problem will correct itself? Your comment reads as if you are someone desparate to sell his Cyprus property who does indeed believe that capitulation and appeasement of the JCE are the best practical solutions for you personally. I doubt that many would agree that is their best practical solution.

  • Frank says:

    @Denton Mackrell

    I thought your latin summation was brilliant. I have another to describe this EU fudge: Per ardua ad faeces.

  • Richard says:

    Do you know what?

    This is the last comment I’m writing and the last comment thread I’m reading – it’s just bad for my health. I’ll read the headlines Nigel and the team post and that’s it.

    The toxic atmosphere of negativity is stifling any chance of any sort of breakthrough on any front with anything to do with turning around fortunes of UK people who have purchased property in Cyprus.

    What do the majority of you hope to achieve by doing this? Have you not realised that the more griping and sniping you all do about this (and every other issue raised) just makes the problems worse? This is the internet – in 2012 – visible WORLDWIDE TO EVERYONE ON THE PLANET connected to it.

    Do you think property problems only happen here? It’s all ticketiboo and dandy everywhere else in the world? Brazil? Florida? The Caribbean? UK off plan apartments? Dubai? Ireland? Spain? Greece? ???????

    And just what did you expect Vivien Reding to do? Call up the UN and send a deputation down to Cyprus? A year ago the woman stated openly that she felt Cyprus was best sorting out it’s own affairs. She didn’t want to do a DAMN THING. BUT – the MEP’s reacting to complaints and data – got her to at least do SOMETHING. It’s ROUND ONE. That’s all – there may be many many more before we crack this.

    I’m glad my grandfather who left a family of five 70 years ago to fight the tyranny of one demented despot isn’t still alive to witness the ‘limp and flaccid’ defeatist attitude of many people on this forum.

    How on earth did Britain ever get “Great” put in front of it?

    I don’t know – but it wasn’t behaving like this – that I DO know!

  • Denton Mackrell says:

    The EC reply just demonstrates how weak, flaccid and ineffectual the EU Commission really is. All they are good for (while at great cost in keeping themselves and their staff firmly on the ‘gravy train’) is issuing pompous, vacuous vapourware that even Sir Humphrey Appleby would eschew. Whatever the noble origins and intentions of the EU and Commission were, today we are left with an organization no longer fit for purpose but dangerously continuing to con EU citizens into believing that it has real power and the intention and will to use it to protect them. Sic transit gloria europae.

  • Gavin Jones says:

    Hilda Nixon.

    Quite simple.

    Because “competence” and “authority” are very thin on the ground.

    Even if both these attributes existed in abundance, any cases brought before the judicial system would be nobbled in some way or other or deemed inadmissible.

  • Hilda Nixon says:

    Why doesn’t someone (cypriot and non cypriot) partner together to set up a “national competent authority”?

  • Costas Apacket says:

    I think the least the OFT can do is to put in place regulations to prevent Cypriot property being advertised for sale or sales being instigated in the UK until the OFT is happy about the methods used within the Cyprus property market and is also happy that adequate Consumer protection exists in Cyprus for UK citzens who wish to purchase land or property there.

  • Maxwell Hannah says:

    What a load of Cobblers!!! I wonder! Are there any honest Cobblers in Cyprus? just a thought hey ho etc. I think I will Phone Mr Christofias for help.

  • Fighting For Justice says:

    There is another EU Directive which allows, IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES, consumers to take action in their own country of domicile. In December I issued a writ in the English courts against a particular lawyer. He is contesting jurisdiction but does not have a valid argument. There is a hearing in March to decide jurisdiction.

    Watch this space, I will keep you informed, through Nigel.

  • baileyboy says:

    Looked quite promising until the final paragraph. Back to the drawing board folks

  • jon frazer says:

    In other words, no bent cucumbers please, but bent developers, banks or government ministers – heck, we all have to make a living!

  • Frank says:

    Very neatly side-stepped by the EU authorities. Even Stanley Matthews could not swerve and dribble so effectively.

    A ‘Good Luck’card might have been more appropriate (and just as useful) for anyone who bought prior to 12/12/07. They are advised that “the national enforcement authority of your country of residence may be able to request further investigation from their Cypriot counterparts.” We all know how effective that would be. If any reply were even sent from the ‘Cypriot counterparts’; it would be full of lies and prevarication. Also, the term “further investigation” assumes that there has already been some investigation.

    As for those unfortunate buyers who choose to live in Cyprus, there is no hope at all, as their recommended route is to seek justice directly via those same ‘Cypriot counterparts’.

    For those who bought after 12/12/07; they can scarcely be reassured to learn that “whether it nonetheless amounts to an unfair practice in the specific cases at stake is an assessment which should be primarily carried out by competent national authorities and courts, taking into account the applicable national laws regulating real estate property matters.”

    Is the phrase “competent national authorities and courts” even appropriate when we refer to Cypriot authorities? Competent? Really?

    If this is how “the European Commission takes the Cypriot situation very seriously”. I wonder how they dismiss trivial situations.

  • Richard says:

    Thanks for publishing this Nigel – it’s a good start (even though the response is – predictably – careful). I see there is a distinction drawn between 2007 UPCD rules and ones in force and prior to this date. That was also predicted.

    It does look though – that there is enough meat on the bone for the OFT to get started with a properly orchestrated complaint.

    Good news (I hope).

  • Gavin Jones says:

    Unless anyone advises otherwise, this looks like yet another body swerve in the mould of Pontius Pilate.

    After digesting the letter, perhaps someone (Nigel?) can pass an informed comment.

  • Andrew says:

    There is no competent Cyprus authority. That is why the problem exists.

  • Peter says:

    We can only wait for Cyprus to get the EU Presidency to show the World what sort of country it is. A country totally devoid of decency and full of corruption all the way to the top. This is another story that advertises the poor state control over dishonest developers, banks and Government officials.

  • The views expressed in readers' comments are not necessarily shared by the Cyprus Property News.

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