EUROPEAN citizens are entitled through the European Citizens’ Initiative to participate in the democratic functioning of the EU by directly approaching the European Commission with a request, thus affecting policymaking and achieving a judicious balance between rights and obligations. For a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to be implemented, the minimum number of signatures required in each Member State should correspond to the number of the Members of the European Parliament elected in that state multiplied by 750, corresponding to at least 1 million signatures and participation from at least 7 countries of the EU.
The first successful ECI took place in 2014 after the campaign Right2Water requested EU legislation to guarantee the right to water and hygiene. It collected two million signatures from 16 countries resulting to its proposals being adopted for reviewing the quality of water intended for human consumption. The importance of water to our life and that it is a global problem led the United Nations in 2010 to recognise that access to water is a human right, a right enshrined in the Cyprus Constitution.
The necessity for access to adequate and clean water, which is characterised as a “public good” and that no one is permitted to be deprived of when paying the relevant bills was analysed by the Rent Control Court in an interim order issued on 17.5.2018. There was a dispute between a municipality and a user of municipal premises; the municipality removed the water meter from the premises, cut off the water supply, since the licence of the premises had expired.
The user alleged that he was a statutory tenant and that his relation with the municipality was not a licence but a tenancy that had become statutory. The user applied to the Rent Control Court for recognition of his rights, claiming orders for his right to peacefully enjoy the premises, monthly costs and/or fees for the purchase of bottled water and general damages.
He claimed the municipality cut off the water supply to illegally suspend his activities and have him illegally evicted. Therefore, he filed an application and obtained an interim order ordering the municipality within 48 hours from the service of the order to re-install and re-connect the water metre and the water supply.
The municipality claimed there was no tenancy but only licence and that the agreement with the user gave them the right to remove the meter, since the user illegally possessed the premises. The court, examining the issue of whether the interim order should be made absolute, referred to the landlord’s obligations and mentioned that these mainly concern the tenant’s right to peaceful and unobstructed enjoyment and use of the premises.
The relevant case-law states that the right to peaceful and unobstructed enjoyment of premises consists not only of the undisturbed or uninterrupted possession, but also of the enjoyment of the premises by the tenant for all ordinary, legitimate purposes, without any disturbance by the landlord.
The court referred to the right to water as “public good”, adding that the access to water is not a consumer’s choice, but a human right. The fact that the municipality had cut off the water supply to the premises, but also to the neighbouring premises assisting the user, without the municipality suffering any loss or damage since the user paid the bills, changed the status quo ante between the litigants and the court consequently made the order absolute. At this stage, the court did not examine the essence of the dispute regarding the relation between the litigants whether it is a tenancy or a licence, since this will be examined at the trial of the case