WHAT happened at the apartment building in old Nicosia was astonishing, even allowing for some of the melodramatic reports by some media. The fact is that poor foreigners unaware of their rights as tenants, were treated quite appallingly by the landowner, who cut off the water and electricity supply, because tenants, allegedly, failed to pay the common expenses and utility bills.
Directors of the company that owns the building claimed some tenants owed thousands of euros in unpaid common expenses and utility bills, even though cutting off the supply may also have been a way of getting rid of those who refused to leave their apartments. The landlords claimed that tenants had been informed some seven to eight months ago that they had to find alternative accommodation because of plans to renovate the building. Some tenants, on the other hand, claimed they had only been given eight days’ notice to move out. Eighty per cent were compensated and moved out, said the directors of the company, who also said that some flats were being sub-let.
It is a messy situation that would not have arisen if the tenants were Cypriots. In fact, a tenant’s rights are so well-protected by the law it is sometimes very difficult for a landlord to regain possession of his property. The law weighs against the owner of the property and when a tenant is uncooperative it could take years of legal wrangling before a property is vacated; sometimes the owner may also have to pay the tenant compensation to reclaim his property.
Such factors did not seem to apply in the case of the poor immigrants, many asylum seekers on a minimum guaranteed income that did not know their rights and could not afford the help of a lawyer. The owners of the apartment building in Nicosia were probably aware of this and it is unlikely they would have resorted to similar tactics if the tenants were Cypriot because they would not have got away with it lightly.
There is a wider problem. As one tenant told this paper, it was not easy for an African and an asylum seeker to find accommodation. “They don’t rent to black people,” said a woman from Somalia, who added that, in any case, it was very difficult to find affordable housing. With rents rising, not only will it be difficult for low-income families to find housing, but owners of cheap housing will have an incentive to renovate in order to exploit the high demand for rented accommodation.
Labour and social insurance minister, Zeta Emilianidou, said the state would take care of the people that faced eviction, but that is temporary measure. The lack of affordable housing is fast becoming a major social problem and soon the consequences will also be suffered by Cypriots.