Cyprus Mail

Fight for justice in housing ordeal

British High Commissioner Matthew Kidd (left) inspects a destroyed swimming pool with homeowner Peter (Joe Parry)

Cracks are opening in walls, water pipes bursting and electrical pipes tearing apart as the land moves beneath houses in the village of Limnes.

Three families have been evicted in the past year amid fears their homes might collapse because of the severity of the land slippage, but many more houses also appear at risk while residents accuse officials of dragging their feet and passing the buck. Another couple has simply left their house and gone back to the UK.

Many in the village are retired Britons who are now pinning their hopes on the British High Commissioner, Matthew Kidd. He visited the village in the Pissouri area on Friday to see the damage for himself and is said to have told residents he will intercede with the government.

Otherwise a battle for compensation in the courts could take years – and many of the Britons are elderly.

Although initially the government had seemed to take responsibility for the mess in 2015, it has since backtracked and made no mention of compensating affected homeowners.

British homeowners in Limni are not alone in complaining that officials are dismissive of their plight.

The most recent family to be evicted was Pandelis Karayannis, who received his eviction notice from the district office in March.

“I told the man (from the district office) that was handing me the paper, what am I supposed to do now? Where should I go? I have a wife and two kids. I don’t have a job,” Karayannis told the Sunday Mail.

“Do you know what he told me? He said ‘that’s your problem’.”

The collapsing swimming pool wall belonging to Pandelis Karayannis

In the meantime, there appear to be no plans for what will happen to the remaining residents in the area which, according to the interior ministry, has been undermined by underground water close to the surface.

Although the town planning department found 60 properties with cracks in the walls, there are 14 houses and a complex of 28 apartments that have been particularly seriously affected and are seeking support from the state, according to lawyer Georgia Elina Zoi.

She has taken on their case “not to battle out in court but to find a solution on a political level with the government”, she said.

Unemployed since last November, Karayannis says the injustice has cost his family dearly.

“We found a place to rent for €450. My wife’s salary is €700. How are we supposed to get by?”

Further compounding the problem is that Karayannis is supposed to be paying off his mortgage for a house he can no longer inhabit. An agreement has been reached with the bank where he is currently not paying his installments but the interest continues to pile up, Zoi told the Sunday Mail.

“I bought the house about five and a half years ago for about €200,000. Today, the value at the bank is €7,600,” he said.

Several affected property owners have grouped together since July 2015, to form the Pissouri Housing Initiative Group (PHIG). Chaired by Peter Fields, he told the Sunday Mail that they formed the group after he and his wife left Cyprus for a holiday “and the house was fine, but then when we came back it was full of cracks.”

Peter Fields’ bedroom

Fields was one of the three families that received an eviction notice and rents a house nearby. He told the Sunday Mail the third person that was evicted was a widow whose family helped pool together some money to help her buy a new place.

In April, PHIG commissioned engineer Dr Gareth J Hearn to do a study on the ground behaviour problems affecting the residential area of Limnes. Outlining that 2012 was the wettest year on record since 1974, and the winter of 2011 and 2012 the third wettest, he decided that it was “most likely that this rainfall, possibly combined with runoff from urban areas, leakages from water supply pipes and discharges from residential properties, played a significant role in triggering the ground behaviour problems observed.”

Nevertheless, the soil is not the principal reason for the damage as the displacement is lateral (downslope) rather than vertical, his report outlined.

Peter Fields’ garage showing the sharp degree of subsidence

“It is considered implausible that these phenomena can be attributed to any cause other than ground movement associated with slope instability.”

Gareth said a landslide had occurred twice, one in ancient times and one more recently that caused a failure within the surface layers at about 10 – 15 metres deep.

The heavy rainfall in 2011 and 2012, reactivated this movement and although it was probably small, it was “sufficient to trigger regressive slope failure” he said.

Since PHIG was formed, the group has been to parliament twice to outline the problems they face, according to Fields but nothing has come of it.

“Our aim is to get justice for the people whose houses are falling down,” he said this week.

Kidd’s visit has made residents feel “delighted that someone actually came to see the situation”, Fields said.

Kidd met with affected home owners, visiting their residences and according to Fields will arrange to meet with Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides to discuss their plight.

“He saw the extent of the damage, he saw the homes and now has a totally clear picture.”

According to Zoi, the affected residents are seeking a form of compensation. The majority of the houses are British owned and thus don’t have access to the bank system.

“At least half of them are too old to wait for another house to be built. They would be interested in another house bought for them,” she said.

“Different cases can be handled in a different way so we can come up with a just settlement for everyone. We don’t want to burden the state but we believe that everyone bought a house and they deserve to have a safe house to live in until the end of their lives.”

Following the resignation of former interior minister Socratis Hasikos in May, the residents feel that the process is now taking longer.

“In the army, when we had a new commander, he had 24 hours to be fully briefed. Over here, it seems to be an excuse to say ‘well he’s new, he needs time’,” Fields said.

In 2015, when the problems first appeared, everything looked more promising. Hasikos had announced plans to put measures in place that could resolve the problem and said projects designed to channel rain water away from the area would be expanded. New wells were also set to be drilled to monitor the underground water

More importantly, Hasikos had attributed responsibilities to state surveyors for wrongly assessing that the ground was suitable for building and said the government would pay for the mess, with MPs quoting a cost of €20m.

Earlier this year, this changed when an investigation by the interior ministry put the blame on contractors saying, for instance, they had used inadequate filling-in works.

Zoi however argues this is a ploy by the ministry to avoid offering compensation

“They say that the retired British home-owners should move legally against the engineers who designed their houses 20-30 years ago. We can’t find everyone – the oldest one is either retired or dead.”

Additionally, litigation would take six to eight years and be very costly to the home owners, she said.

“All that, because the government doesn’t want to admit that we have a landslide and pretends that all engineers ‘wrongly assessed the ground’s endurance, didn’t take into account the type of soil and didn’t use foundation piles’.”

The interior ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment by the Sunday Mail.

Attempts by Pissouri community council to offer a little help in the form of a small stipend to the evicted families have also fallen flat.

Pissouri community council leader Lazaros Lazarou told the Sunday Mail that a year ago, around the time when the first eviction notice was served in February 2016, the council had voted in favour of giving €300 every month to anyone affected.

“At the time it was only one family, but we knew there would be more to follow,” he said.

The motion however was rejected by the Limassol district office which said the council’s decision did not comply with the law, Nicoletta Gavrilidou who has been dealing with the case at the district office told the Sunday Mail.

The Yeomans’ dining room

On Thursday, the town council notified some of the residents that work would begin next week on one of the roads and pavements, said Katherine Yeomans, who lives in the area.

“Right now, the road is a mess, you can see cracks in it. They filled it about six months ago but within a few weeks it had opened up again. The pavements are really dangerous as well.”

Yeomans, along with her husband Jeremy, moved into their Pissouri home in January 2015 after leaving the UK.

Although their home was built in 2006, it wasn’t until a few years ago that cracks began to appear in the walls.

Now the house is an entirely different state.  “Pipes are bursting, the pool is completely collapsing in itself, electrical wires are being pulled apart,” she said.

“Nobody wants to help.”

They’ve spent thousands in repairs, but have now given up.

“When we moved here, we thought this would be our dream home. Now it’s our worst nightmare,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking for us and the people that have to move.”

Buckled pavement near the Yeomans’ house

Moving back to the UK is not an option for the couple as they cannot afford it and sold everything before moving here.

“I have enormous regret. It’s the worst thing we ever did.”

Even worse, even if they lose their house, their mortgage will still need to be repaid, Yeomans said.

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