By Evie Andreou
A PLAN to shake up how Turkish Cypriot properties are distributed is expected to be ready within three months after it was revealed this week that nine out of ten who hold such properties sublet them, often at inflated rates.
Some are even being used by millionaires and high-ranking state officials as holiday homes
The strategic plan, aimed at more transparency and accountability is expected to be handed to Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos within three months, the deputy head of ministry’s Guardianship of Turkish Cypriot Properties Matheos Economides said on Friday.
Economides, said the strategic plan aimed at to amending outdated legislation and procedures – some in place since 1975 – and introduce a “just and meritocratic” distribution of Turkish Cypriot property to beneficiaries.
Following the 1974 Turkish invasion, the government allowed refuges to live in and use vacant Turkish Cypriot properties in the south of the island.
According to existing legislation, the interior minister as the designated guardian, is tasked to manage the properties with the aim of helping refugees by temporarily allowing them usage, and to also protect and make sure that the rights of the rightful owners are not overlooked “until the end of the unstable situation created by the Turkish invasion”.
But due to outdated legislation and lack of means for effective supervision of how the properties are being managed, several irregularities are being reported.
Earlier in the week DISY MP George Georgiou told a House refugees committee meeting that nine in ten holders of Turkish Cypriot owned professional establishments sublet them to companies for ridiculously high monthly rents.
In the Mackenzie area in Larnaca, MPs heard, ten out of the 14 Turkish Cypriot owned properties are being exploited by non-beneficiaries.
“Unfortunately we were informed about cases when some refugees, beneficiaries of such establishments, sublet them to non-refugees for €200 to €300 monthly rents and they in their turn sublet them to others for rents as high as €4,000 to €5,000 per month,” Economides told the Cyprus Mail.
He added that this was illegal and the perpetrators, when the irregularity is discovered lose their usage rights over the property and they also face legal action system. “Only in extraordinary cases sublets are allowed, and only after permission granted by the guardian”.
But to date, Economides said, there are no means to control every person who uses Turkish Cypriot property. “To do that, we would need to recruit the island’s whole police force”. He said that the strategic plan he is preparing will include specific criteria as to who are beneficiaries, but also updates of rents according to current rates.
“Monthly rents [on Turkish Cypriot properties] as low as €5 and €10 might have been deemed as appropriate in 1975, but today this cannot be the case, especially when some establishments yield monthly profits of €10,000 and €20,000,” Economides said.
He added that if rents were increased, the illegal sublet phenomenon would die out.
But MPs also heard that Turkish Cypriot properties were even being used by millionaires and high-ranking state officials as holiday homes.
“Following the 1974 events, some were allocated bigger usage rights than others and this is something this strategic plan aims to rectify as well,” Economides said.
He also said that as regards holiday homes, this was a policy the government had adopted in the early 1980’s and it concerned properties that was close to ruin. The state was renting out these properties for low prices on the provision that the tenants would assume restoration costs.
Such arrangements are no longer allowed, he said, and his service was also looking into the possibility of taking these residences back.
“The philosophy behind this is not to punish people but to offer society service where it is needed most. The aim is transparency, accountability, and objective criteria for beneficiaries,” he said.
Some regulations might have been most appropriate when they were introduced but laws need to be amended, he said.