Cyprus government hits out at criticism that it is dragging its feet over title deeds row

The Cyprus government has hit out at allegations that it has been slow to tackle the title deed problems that have left tens of thousands of property owners on the Mediterranean island without proof that they own their homes.

Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis said in a statement that such claims ignore the serious efforts being made to resolve the situation. ‘There has been an attempt to present the Republic of Cyprus as an unreliable place for investment in the property market due to the problem of issuing title deeds. These allegations are entirely unsustainable,’ he said.

He pointed out that reforms of the system will not only force developers to hand over title deeds but they will be fined and publicly named and shamed if they do not.

He also said that the Cyprus government is planning a building amnesty allowing certain infringements of planning law and regulations to be authorised so that so-called blighted properties will be regularised, although the developers involved will have to pay hefty fines.

Sylikiotis said amendments to four pieces of legislation that are currently in draft form will reform the planning procedures and boost the property market in Cyprus. New rules will prevent developers from holding onto title deeds and using them to raise mortgages for further developments, a practice that has been a major contributor to the title deeds fiasco.

The current situation where the procedure for issuing title deeds on separate property units within a development project lies with the owner/seller (in most cases the developer) will be changed, he confirmed.

He explained that provisions will be introduced to encourage developers to apply for the issuing of title deeds and new rules will enable the owners of properties without correct planning permission to apply for the situation to be regularised.

‘The amendments will be a significant reform of the planning system and will largely improve the system of issuing property titles, providing solutions to several problems identified in the current system. Overall, the proposed amendments will contribute to the speeding up of the issuing of title deeds and our goal is the issuing of some 20,000 title deeds by the middle of 2010,’ Sylikiotis said.

The new rules will accelerate the process of applying for deeds and any seller refusing to hand over deeds can be ordered by the courts to transfer the paperwork. If they still refuse to do so then the court can order that the deeds are compulsorily transferred. Those who refuse to co-operate will face large fines and be named publicly by the Ministry, he added.

‘These significant improvements will benefit, not only new buyers, but also people who have already signed such a contract for buying a housing unit that is part of a development project and have had difficulties obtaining their title deed,’ Sylikiotis explained.

He also pointed out in the statement that the current system and existing legislation protects buyers and their ownership status. ‘Any aggrieved buyer can appeal to the courts against any seller who refuses to transfer the title deeds to the new owner. The ownership status of a buyer of immovable property in Cyprus is definitely secure and cannot be challenged, as long as the owner has submitted the buying-contract to the Department of Lands and Surveys,’ he added. Will investors regain their confidence in the Cyprus government?

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