General Meeting

08 May 2007

MINUTES

 

Chair:                                               Marian Stokes

Other Admin Team Members:           David James

                                           Patricia James

Minutes                                            Sheila Vango

Guest Speaker:                                Romans Mapolar, Immovable Property Commission

The meeting was opened at 7.30 pm by Marian Stokes, who welcomed all members, all members of the press, estate agents and the guest speaker Romans Mapolar to our 18th meeting in 20 months.  So, 20 months on what have we achieved? We have had numerous meetings with the Government, with the Builders Union, with city planning, with the Baro, with the Interior Ministry and where are we – still in a big BLACK HOLE. We have some minor successes and get a lot of support for our plight from the press, especially the Cyprus Today, but the people who could really improve our lot, either don’t listen, are impotent and are puppet figureheads – or just don’t care.

After all this effort, new people are joining every week and there is a steady trickle of people leaving the island for good, there dreams shattered. In many instances, I think the problems are getting worse!

We live in a country where the laws are ignored and broken with impunity and nobody does anything about it.

The ‘promise’ we got about PTPs being cleared by June is another no hoper – there have been a total of 252 permissions granted in the last 13 weeks – that equates to 19 a week. Nothing is going to change. 

The Construction Association gained more powers in January – a new law was passed that all builders have to be registered with the union, or they are illegal and can be shut down and ultimately imprisoned. I have tried to get an updated list of members of the union without much success; however the old one is on our website. If you are aware of buildings being constructed near you, check them out, is the builder on the list – if not let me know and we shall see if this new law has any teeth. Somehow we have to create a situation where the laws of this country, designed to protect you and me, are enforced. 

So what are we going to do about this never ending, just as ghastly situation? Talking and continually stating that we want to work with the Government have borne a poor crop and I for one am fed up with it. The time has come for direct action and I propose we become more visible and start demonstrating! I am proposing a daily protest, with members giving up a slot of time to demonstrate outside one of the ministry’s. (THIS WAS RECEIVED WITH APPLAUSE AND CHEERING). Well, I am glad you are with me, we shall get this organised quickly so please look at the website and the Press for details of how you can help. We have mobile numbers for most of you, so that is another way we can keep in touch. Lets make this work folks, please rope in as many people as you can, the more who agree to give up a couple of hours a week, the longer we can keep going. 

Many of our members have complained to me about the Muktar at Karsiyaka, it appears he is charging a lot of money for a simple task, again please report these instances – having obtained a receipt – and we can complain to the appropriate authorities. 

On a slightly more positive note, there was some good news last week, 2 cases that have been going to Court for the past 4 years (could that be called timely resolution?) were settled last week. One of the stories is on our website so please have a read. I am still waiting on the details of the other case. 

Talking of laws, the government have been listening to some of our complaints and have recently passed a new law concerning the legality, practices of and rules and regulations for the Real Estate Agents (REA) industry. We are very fortunate to have with us tonight, one of the primary authors of this law, Mr Romans Mapolar. Romans is going to explain the new legislation to us and invite your questions when he has finished, so without further ado, let me pass the floor to him.

Real Estate Agency Legislation – Mr Romans Mapolar, Immovable Property Commission (Please note – this is not a legal interpretation of the law, but my Minutes – you must still do you own research) 

Hello first let me say that it is a privilege to meet you; it is an honour when decent people have decided to live in your country and I am so sorry that for many of you this has not been a wonderful experience. 

Progress is slow, but hopefully this new legislation will help greatly. We started by looking how other countries handle the sale of real estate, mainly in the UK and the USA. In these countries REA’s provide information relating to the physical and legal standing of each property they are selling. When a buyer decides to buy, the estate agent negotiates a sales price but the finer detail of the legalities are then passed onto a solicitor who draws up a contract and sees the sale through to its conclusion. A nominal deposit may be paid with the bulk of the funds being transferred with title at the end of the process. 

We hope to do the same, as the current practices have created a lot of victims as the title deeds were not secured by an independent body. Although I have trained as a lawyer, I do not practice law, nor do I represent the Government, I am a member of the Immovable Property Commission, so I am unencumbered by links with the industry in any way. Having looked at working systems around the world and how they would integrate with the practices of the TRNC, we decided to use the conveyancing system used so successful elsewhere as our basis of this new law – but not 100%. We wanted, not only to incorporate the legal aspects of those systems, but we wanted to build in a remedy for those wronged, without the need to go to Court. 

So basically there are three pillars which make up this law  

The main body of the law is based on the conveyancing model system used in most 1st world countries. The information supplied by the seller must be accurate; the seller must tell the REA, the solicitors involved and the buyer, of the truth of the purchase. The REA must be confident that they have the truth before they market the property. 

So to be an Estate Agent, you must

Therefore, to be able to open or run an estate agency one must successfully pass the exams that shall be set by the Interior Ministry. By making the criteria for being an REA more rigorous, the certificate that will be issued to successful candidates will be proof that they understand the legal requirements of selling immovable property and that they have Governmental authority to act in such a capacity.

Apart from making the whole Real Estate industry more professional, the other aims of the exams will cover topics such as, the working environment and customer service. Also with a demonstrated professional knowledge of the process, the REA is declaring that they understand the rules and regulations – which is just as well, as the new law encompasses a system of redress from dissatisfied customers! 

The other good thing that the new law does is to make the whole process transparent, in so much as the Estate Agency has to declare who their solicitor is, who their accountant is and the fees that they charge. They are not allowed to be linked to specific builders – that is the estate agent and the builder cannot be linked. The Real Estate Agency is entitled to receive a commission of between 3 and 5% - to be paid on the completion of the sale. If a sale is aborted, the REA is entitled to out of pocket expenses only – but these must be supported by invoices for work carried out. 

So now we have our fully fledged REA, open for business. So what are their responsibilities under the new law?

It seems that most of the responsibilities will actually lie with the seller – the REA responsibility is to ensure that what the seller provides is correct. An owner is obliged to provide a potential buyer with all relevant documentation regarding the property to be sold. These can be obtained from the Urban Planning Office (condition of the property), any research documents on file with the Title and Registration Office (regarding restrictions on the property – such as mortgage), and any granted building permission. You should be fully aware of anything relating to the sale of that property, just as you are in every other 1st world country. Once the REA is satisfied that they have the full picture, they will market the property and negotiate a sale. 

Once a potential buyer is found, both parties approach their own independent solicitors to draw up a sales agreement. Once the sales agreement is signed, the REA must ensure that the contract is lodged with the District lands Office within 21 days. By lodging a sales agreement with the DLO, a restriction is placed on the property ensuring that the status of the property cannot be changed from its declared position. This is particularly important to our members as it means that the land cannot be mortgaged – unless YOU give your express permission to allow it to be done. Likewise, roads cannot magically appear over your land! 

However, word of warning – if you give your solicitor Power of Attorney – ensure that it expressly forbids it being used for this purpose.

The REA is also responsible for making sure that any charges due to government offices are paid at this time.

So the onus is on the REA as the proposed agent for the seller to ensure everything is ok, as a safety measure, it is incumbent on all REA to take out an insurance against prosecution by a dissatisfied buyer, to the sum of 100,000 YTL.

A Commission consisting of a chairman and 6 members will be formed to register all REA and their duties. They will have the power to register all newly qualified members and to cancel registrations; they will be responsible for ensuring a current listing is held by the Ministry. They will also set the annual registration fee – and most importantly for us – give disciplinary penalties in accordance with this law.

So what if things do go wrong? Where do you turn if the property you have purchased deviates from the declared state, when sold? At the moment there is no recourse other than the law courts. A Reconciliation Commission is to be set up of seven members, under the presidency of a minister or undersecretary to solve any problems that arise between the buyer and seller. The Reconciliation Commission will hear all relevant arguments from both parties and make a decision on the matter within 30 days. If either party are unhappy with this decision they have the option of applying to the courts.

Now – the important bit – this arrangement applies to retroactively, that is to say that it applies to all events that happened before the law was passed.

 NB. We will find out how this is to work in practice and place the information on the website.

At this point Romans concluded his talk and passed the floor back to Marian. Marian thanked Romans and asked for any questions.

Q:      Thank you for an interesting talk on the new law, it sounds very good and covers a lot of the points we have been asking for. Can I ask when you are going to produce such a comprehensive law for the lawyers as they are the main instigators of all our problems?

RM:     (Laughs) I share your concerns on this matter, having read some of your case histories, I can see some people are very angry with their solicitors. We all trust that people that decide to be solicitors are honest and respect the law; if you find this not to be the case then you must write to Baro, tell each other and spread the word. A lot of the searches you have asked a solicitor to do in the past will now be done by the REA, before a property is marketed, hopefully that will help.

Q:      If a construction company sells it’s own properties – are they subject to this new law?

RM:     No – this is a conflict of interest. A construction company must use a registered REA to sell it’s property.

Q:      There are many English REA’s at the moment – will they be allowed to continue?

RM:     All REA‘s must meet the criteria set out in the new legislation. If the owner is a TRNC citizen and meets all the other criteria, then yes. 

Q:      What confidence can we have that this new law will be enforced, as so many already in existence are not?

RM:     It will be the responsibility of the Minister of the Interior to make sure this is enforced. (Much laughter – this is the ministry responsible for PTP) 

Q:      Many of us here bought our properties whilst residing in the UK. Most of us were new to the experience of buying property abroad and relied on our solicitors to oversee the sale on our behalf. To enable them to do this, they ask you to sign a Power of Attorney (POA) so that they can apply for various permissions in your name. You say that the declared state of a property will be registered with the DLO and can only be altered if both parties agree that it may be done. Will a solicitor, armed with your POA be able to sign on your behalf – without your knowledge?

RM:     I would hope a solicitor would not take any action such as this without consulting you! However, the simple way to avoid such a thing happening is to restrict the POA you give your solicitor, either by time or by express instructions as to what he/she can/cannot do on your behalf. 

Q:      In the past, POA was one way on which people sold land, many times over, therefore disguising who the original seller was. How is this new law going to prevent that from happening?

RM:     This is an illegal act. Under the new law this will not happen as the sales contract will be lodged against the existing deeds. Transparency in all dealings was one of the aims of this law and this is one way of achieving that. Individual sales can take place between father and son, brother and sister, but the person who is selling to another will be subject to the laws we have discussed. If you have been impacted by this type of situation then you have a case under the new reconciliation commission. 

Q:      I paid my solicitor to conduct searches on my land; these were not done although they put in writing that it was. Is there anything in this new law to punish that solicitor?

RM:     No, because under the new law, the searches will be carried out and verified by the REA. If they fail in this duty, then you have recourse to the Reconciliation Commission. 

Q:      You said earlier that the Reconciliation Commission will be made up of 4 REA’s and 3 bureaucrats. The chair will be drawn from one of the REA’s. How can I trust that a Commission made up of a majority of REA’s and chaired by a REA – will give an impartial judgement?  Will every hearing be minuted and will the results be published in the local press?  Why isn’t the chair an independent?

RM:     We have the same concerns, so have ensured that the chair must be approved by the  Interior Minister.

Q:      My concern is that the Reconciliation Commission has no teeth as it is dependant on the parties reaching an agreement that is not ratified in law, even if agreement is reached – what incentive is there for the REA to put the matter right?

RM:     A REA who does not abide by the rules of the REA Commission can be struck off, we would hope this is incentive enough. They are risking their livelihood if they do not act on the Reconciliation Commissions decision. 

Q:      Some REA are working from the UK. How will this new law impact them?

RM:     This law applies to the TRNC only. TRNC properties sold in the UK are not offered the protection of the new law, they may however have some rights in UK law. 

Q:      We have been involved in a court case here that has been rumbling on for the past 10 years. We were not involved in the beginning, but due to personal circumstances are now. We are puzzled as to why we have to give our solicitor a POA to act on our behalf in the case and why that POA is not good enough in some instances and we have to appear in person – from the UK. Then when we get here, everything is just postponed again. Can you tell me why?

RM:     The only reason you will be called upon is if your lawyer suspects you will be required to give evidence in person, even with a POA he cannot do this for you. Why does the case keep getting delayed?

Q:      Various reasons, but the most common is that the defendant is unwell and cannot attend court, but we are the ones incurring the expense and inconvenience.

RM:     That is very frustrating, but again the judge obviously needs to hear the mans defence from his own lips.

Q:      As the main body of people taking any complaints to the Reconciliation Commission are likely to be British, has any consideration been giving to utilising the services of an ex-pat with conveyancing experience to sit on the board?

RM:    Not at this time, but it is something to consider. 

Q:      During your talk, the word ‘should’ was used a lot, in law ‘should’ is very vague, the word needs to be ‘shall’, as this means you must do it. Can you clarify which word is in the law?

RM:     I have spoken about the law in translation, under the law these things must be done, it is a translation slip.

That was the last of the questions from the floor.        

Once again Romans was warmly thanked by Marian and by the group for coming to explain the new law to us. Romans then left the meeting.

We are sure this new law, as any law, will be of immense benefit for those about to embark on the buying process here. It does seem to be robust and will do a lot to improve the standards within the industry. We are equally sure it will be in for a rocky ride as the process is implemented and hope that it does not flounder as so many of the existing laws have been allowed to do. Fingers crossed.

The meeting took at 15 minute recess.

Upon re-convening, Marion passed the floor to Bryan Hill who has been proactive about preventing the proposed construction of a new hotel at Bellapais and wanted to talk to us about it today.

Bryan Hill

On the 22 March this year, my wife and I were confronted with the site of bulldozers working on a plot of land, known for its outstanding natural beauty on the borders of Ozanköy, Doğanköy and Bellapais. Upon making enquires as to what was going on, we were told this was the designated site for a new 4 storey hotel. We asked when was permission given for this and were told 5 years ago! We stated that we had not been informed of this when local searches were done and were told - well you should have been. This building will be very close to our home. You can imagine our horror, especially as we know how much residents are impacted by all-night discos and casinos to the west of Girne during the summer months. We spoke to our neighbours, both British and Cypriot, to see if they had any previous knowledge of this mater and they did not, but they were equally as concerned and upset about the destruction that had taken place so far. We all decided to do something about it. 

Upon making further enquires about the size of the hotel etc, we have been told it will be a two hundred bed capacity facility (100 bedrooms), this is just 50 beds short of the minimum size for an casino to be included in the build, although we have been assured that this is not the management’s intention (LOL). It will be a four storey building, with the two lower floors being double the usual size, so this will end up a very prominent building in the Bellapais skyline.  

We asked why was it being built in a residential area, with very narrow roads (no room for widening) when there are currently 5 other hotels encompassed in the village – many of whom are struggling for business and indeed rumour has it that two intend to close if business does not improve. We also pointed out that the infrastructure will not support such a big development – for 10 months last year, we relied on our well for water – there was none in the mains. We spoke about our concerns for the roads; it is very narrow and so how are the guests and provisions for the hotel going to get there? None of these matters appear to have been addressed. 

We are frustrated by the lack of foresight being demonstrated here; 18 months ago the government published an Environmental Policy – to preserve the very type of environment already damaged beyond repair. In this statement they said that any new development would be considered from the point of view of damage to the environment and to those living in the area – and yet we knew nothing about these proposals. 

Once again it appears this government talk the talk, but that is it, the power of the Construction Industry wins again. Of all the villages known for its beauty, Bellapais most probably comes top of the league, with this monstrosity and with 2 years of noise and disruption, this will be yet another tourist spot ruined. 

So what can you do to help – we have had some protest marches and plan more, so watch the press and please come and join us. We have also started a petition which we would urge you to sign, either here tonight or via the HBPG website. 

Thank you for listening. 

Marian thanked Bryan for his speech and urged all of us present to sign the petition. She then closed the meeting.