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British court ruling alarms north Cyprus property owners January 22, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, Turkey.
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Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias. AP photo
Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias. AP photo

Foreign property owners in Turkish Cyprus have expressed alarm over a British court ruling that has 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 northern Cyprus came as “a great shock,” said Stokes, the founder of a property group that advises potential buyers in Turkish Cyprus. “The foreigners have done nothing wrong,” she added. “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 Meletios Apostolides, the original Greek Cypriot owner, and pay him damages. Apostolides’ family, like thousands of others, fled to the south of the island in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the north in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.

Greek Cypriots to sue tourists staying at hotel in Northern Cyprus

A lawyer says the Greek-Cypriot owners of a hotel in Turkish Cyprus will sue tourists who stayed there for trespassing. Constantis Candounas says his clients chose legal action after a British court this week issued a key ruling against a U.K. couple who bought land in Turkish Cypriot north. Candounas said Thursday that the refugees from Kyrenia would file summons in a Cypriot court against 60 tourists known to have stayed at the northern coastal town’s Dome Hotel over the last year. He said action would also be taken against the Dome Hotel’s Turkish Cypriot operators. Cyprus was ethnically divided in 1974, when Turkey intervened after a coup aimed at union with Greece.

Many of the abandoned properties were distributed among Turkish Cypriots who had left behind assets in the south and who often subsequently sold them on to foreigners, mainly Britons. Apostolides launched a court action in Nicosia in 2005 that was followed by a string of subsequent legal hearings amid disagreements related to the case.

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. “The only way to be sure that no one will ask for the land people buy in the north is to have a pre-1974 title deed from a British expatriate or a Turkish Cypriot,” he added. “A resolution of the property issue, for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, can only come about as part of a comprehensive settlement.”

A Briton living in Kyrenia, who requested anonymity, said he did not know what he would do in light of the court ruling: “We have to see what the Orams do… then we will decide if we stay or leave the country.” But he 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 government.”

Another Briton with a house in the north of the island criticized the greed of the property agencies and the ignorance of the buyers. “Most expats are not aware of the property problem in Cyprus and are not interested in finding out,” he said, adding that they just accept what the estate agents tell them.

As well as affecting the expatriate community, the ruling could have worrying consequences for northern Cyprus, where, according to the Greek Cypriot government’s statistics, as much as 78 percent of the land was owned by Greek Cypriots before 1974. Property is one of the most complex and divisive parts of the Cyprus issue.

The Greek Cypriot side is expected to use the ruling to support its stance and proposals in ongoing U.N.-backed talks aimed at reunifying the Mediterranean island this year. But the Turkish Cypriot manager of an estate agency in Kyrenia said foreigners should not assume that all title deeds issued by the government of northern Cyprus are fakes and will inevitably create problems. “To potential buyers, we say that they take the risk if they buy someone’s property without these pre-1974 deeds,” the manager said. “Some clients buy thinking that there will be a solution and the case will be settled.”

The manager pointed out that Turkish Cypriots living in the south before 1974 have also been dispossessed, including her father, who applied to a Greek Cypriot court in 2008 to recover his land, in Limassol on the south coast. “His case was dismissed because he had to stay six months in the south before applying,” she said.

Greek Cypriots have submitted around 1,500 property claims to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, according to Greek Cypriot lawyer Achilleas Demetriades.

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