NEWS

Cyprus property ruling alarms foreign owners

NICOSIA – Foreign property-owners in northern Cyprus have expressed alarm over a British court ruling that ordered a couple to tear down a villa built on disputed land and pay compensation to the owner. «It’s very bad news for everyone… What can they do, pack up and leave?» asked Marian Stokes, an Irishwoman who lives in the northern port town of Kyrenia. Tuesday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal in London that the British couple must demolish and abandon their holiday home in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north came as «a great shock,» said Stokes. «The foreigners have done nothing wrong,» added Stokes, founder of a home buyers’ property group that advises potential buyers in the north. «They’ve done everything by the rules. They went to a lawyer and got advice, the title deeds were stamped by the government.» The landmark court ruling requires David and Linda Orams to hand the land they bought in 2002 back to Meletis Apostolides, the original Greek Cypriot owner, and pay him damages. Apostolides’s family like thousands of others fled to the south of the island in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the north in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Many of the abandoned properties were distributed among Turkish Cypriots who fled their own homes in the south. Apostolides launched a court action in Nicosia in 2005 which was followed by a string of subsequent legal hearings amid disagreements over the case. His lawyer said yesterday that the new precedent meant that any Greek Cypriot who owned land in the breakaway north could now seek a remedy through the Cyprus courts that would be enforceable throughout the EU. «People who have land in the occupied north that is being trespassed upon by foreigners can now take legal action at the courts of the Republic of Cyprus,» Constantis Candounas told reporters. «They can be certain that any judgment they are able to obtain will be enforced throughout the EU.» Candounas said the case was not about the politics of the Cyprus problem but simply a man who wanted to return home. «[Apostolides] is a refugee who wants to go home. We all want to go home, and this is all it is about.» But the Turkish-Cypriot manager of an estate agency in Kyrenia, who asked not to be named, stressed that her own community too had been dispossessed in 1974 and retained title deeds to large numbers of properties in the south of the island. She said her own father had applied to a Greek-Cypriot court in 2008 to recover his land in the island’s second city of Limassol but had fallen foul of the restrictions placed on Turkish-Cypriot cases. «His case was dismissed because he had to stay six months in the south before applying,» she said. A Briton living in Kyrenia, who requested anonymity, said it would not be easy for the Orams to knock their house down as ordered by the court, «because they have to get a demolition permit from the [Turkish-Cypriot administration].» Around 8,000 Britons live in the north of the Mediterranean island and «it would be ridiculous to bring 8,000 cases to court,» said Morton Coles, chairman of the British Residents in Northern Cyprus Society. «A resolution of the property issue, for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, can only come about as part of a comprehensive settlement,» he added. As well as affecting the expatriate community, the ruling could have worrying consequences for Turkish Cypriots, as according to Greek Cypriot statistics, the majority community owned as much as 78 percent of the land before 1974. Apostolides’s lawyer said he had now taken on a new case in which he planned to serve writs to 60 tourists for «trespassing» while staying at the Dome Hotel in Kyrenia, on behalf of its displaced Greek-Cypriot owner. He said the «party was now over» for illegal developers and «trespassers.»