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Auditor-general opposes compensation for Limnes homeowners

One of the homes destroyed in the Limnes land-slippage

The state has no obligation to compensate the homeowners of properties damaged or destroyed in a destructive and ongoing landslip in the Limnes area of Pissouri, the auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides told the Cyprus Mail on Monday.

Michaelides said his office was in favour of studies and work to shore up the slopes but “this does not mean the state will build the houses of private citizens or compensate them for damage they had incurred, the same way it does not have the responsibility for damage caused by other natural disasters. That is why private housing insurance exists.”

But the state ought to put measures in place if necessary, to support the slopes in the area even though it has no legal obligation he said.

“Our position is that the state, not because it has a legal obligation, but because it is a welfare state, should carry out studies and take measures to support the slopes to stop the land from sliding due to slope slippage, if it is proven there is such slippage.”

The auditor-general’s comments will come as a serious blow to homeowners in the area who have seen their properties damaged, and in some cases destroyed, in the land slippage.  They had hoped their long battle for redress was nearing an end when the House interior committee said last month the government would compensate owners and carry out a study on the stabilisation of the area.

Since 2012, property owners have seen gaping cracks appear in interior and exterior walls, making their homes uninhabitable, swimming pools destroyed and roads buckle and split apart.

Dozens of homes have been affected and five families have had to be evicted, one of them just this last month. The affected area measures around 500 thousand square metres and is increasing. The land is estimated to be slipping by 30 centimetres a month.

Who is responsible for building the properties on unstable land is at the heart of the dispute. Insurance companies have refused to compensate the owners.

In his comments on Monday, Michaelides echoed a recent letter he had written to the interior minister warning him that state compensation of homeowners was essentially a gift to the developers who sold the houses and also set a precedent.

“Over one-third of the houses, as well as an entire residential complex with serious damage, constructed on the side with the problematic subsoil, were sold by a specific and very well-known land developing company, which will now be relieved of its responsibilities,” the auditor said in his March 22 letter.

According to the law, he said, developers conduct studies using their own engineers.

“The authority’s inspection does not relieve the project engineer of the responsibility regarding the structural calculations they sign.”

Michaelides said it was obvious the blame for the failures burdened the developers directly and not some third party like the engineer, if they are different from the contractor.

The auditor warned against the precedent it would create if the state essentially assumed the responsibility of the adequacy of the structural studies.

To support his argument, the auditor referred to a problem in the village of Armos, Paphos, where six houses sustained serious damage, five have been abandoned, because they had been constructed on “expansive clay without the structural study making provisions to deal with this subsoil property”.

Similar properties have been displayed by a large section of Nicosia’s subsoil, like the area around the Hilton hotel, he said.

Before assuming any responsibility, the state should seek guidance from the attorney-general, the letter said.

According to many experts, the land slippage is due to failure to provide adequate infrastructure to manage groundwater, and allowing development to go ahead in the area.

Residents blame authorities that permitted large scale development but failed to carry out infrastructure works either to manage the groundwater, or to stabilise the sliding hillside.

In a letter this week to the Sunday Mail, Antony Walker, a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, listed a series of experts who have cleared the developers of any design error.

According to Walker, experts analysing the 2001 Pissouri landslide, located immediately next to the present landslide, identified a causal link between that landslide and the surcharge of the natural aquifer under Pissouri.

“The probable cause of the present landslide in southwest Pissouri is uncontrolled ground water. The government’s own experts, the Geological Survey Department’s email dated 13 November 2018 attributed the cause of the landslide to the failure [of the state] to provide a ground water management system,” Walker wrote.

“The residents of southwest Pissouri are the innocent victims of an uninsurable natural disaster -namely, landslide which was notified to the authorities seven years ago in June 2012. The residents have not sought to apportion blame or to blame anyone, they simply look to the government of Cyprus to protect them from the consequences, including loss of their homes, of the uninsurable natural disaster, as is their right under Article 1 of Protocol 1 of The European Convention on Human Rights.”

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