‘It’s like rubbing salt on an open wound,’ say homeowners
By Bejay Browne
Even though homes in Pissouri that have either been destroyed or seriously damaged by an ongoing landslide are still crumbling, some owners that took out loans to purchase their stricken homes have been asked by their lenders to restart payments.
“It’s like rubbing salt on an open, weeping wound,” an affected resident told the Sunday Mail this week.
The request for payments to restart is an added pressure for owners of the homes in the development to the south west of Pissouri village proper. Some homes have virtually collapsed, the result of a continuous and accelerating landslide and have been deemed unfit for habitation. Homes, gardens and swimming pools are ripped apart, walls and driveways are collapsing, roads split, buckled and impassable.
A couple that bought their ‘dream’ home in 2014 were unaware of any problems in the area and poured all of their money into their property which they cannot live in and yet are now expected to repay their mortgage.
“We have been paying the interest only on our mortgage for the last two years and now the bank wants us to start to repay the loan. We are trying to negotiate with them now,” said the couple who did not wish to be named.
They were forced out of their home and into rented accommodation after their home was deemed unfit for habitation as the landslide caused broken pipes to spew waste into the ground, as well as other problems.
“I have had to go back to work full time so that we can afford to rent somewhere, and we are still having to pay building insurance for the property in case there are any injuries,” the wife said.
The pair can no longer live in their three-bedroom home with its 180 degree panoramic view of the sea and mountains. It is now twisted by three metres and partially sunk due to the landslide, with a fissure in the ground behind which has forked either side of the house and affected their garden and pool.
The house itself was built on a concrete plinth which is the reason it has not broken apart, unlike older houses in the area, they said.
“We were given an eviction order, even though we spent thousands on repairs to fix problems as they arose as we wanted to stay in our home. This is our only property, and we are devastated.”
The heavy rainfall this winter has increased concerns over how the area will be further affected.
“We would like compensation to go and buy somewhere else in Cyprus where the land is safe. But we would consider staying in our home if they could stabilise everything.”
The reason for the destabilsation is the accumulation of water in the subsoil. The 2012 landslide started immediately after an extremely rainy winter of 2011-2012.
Since then, a long process of engineering studies and battles over who bore responsibility for building on the site has ensued with various vague promises of compensation. At least three interior ministers have become embroiled in the dispute which has also been discussed in the House of Representatives.
In 2015, several property owners came together to form the Pissouri Housing Initiative Group (PHIG) with lawyer Georgia-Elina Zoi representing some of the owners.
She wrote to Interior Minister Nicos Nouris in January, and one point raised noted that since the borrowers cannot pay both the monthly loan instalment and the monthly rent which they were forced to pay, due to their inability to stay in their homes, loans have been suspended.
She pointed out that it may be possible, with the stabilisation of the ground and the restoration of the area, that some residents may be able to return to their homes and repay their loans normally.
Only some of the 22 buildings have irreparable damage, she said. Most buildings are unsuitable because they have been disconnected from utilities (water, electricity, telecommunications) and the destruction of the surrounding area, not the building itself. The owners will be able to return and repair properties after the completion of stabilisation work, so they will not lose their property. This would dramatically reduce their financial losses.
“However, banks are interested in knowing the work schedule so that they know when their customers will be able to start repaying their loans again,” she said.
In addition, immediate measures need to be taken to pump out the water that accumulates due to heavy rainfall, so as to protect the infrastructure and properties that have not been damaged so far and can be repaired, she said.
The ongoing works started on January 27 and will take seven months to complete, and include the construction of a long pile wall at the top of the landslide area. It aims to protect the area outside the landslide but she said it would do nothing for stabilizing the affected area.
“It seems that the government is just trying to prevent the expansion of the problem on the hill at the north and west of the landslide area,” she said.
This winter, part of the village proper has also been affected and two houses have received an evacuation order, she said.
In his reply to Zoi, the minister said that work was underway in the area and, “at the same time, the preparation of tender documents from the Department of Public Works for the construction of an embankment, which will be the counterweight for holding the instability at the foot of the landslide. The announcement of the tender by the Department of Public Works is expected to be done after the summer season and the duration of the project is expected to be two years.”
He added that 22 private buildings were deemed unsuitable for habitation and therefore the state, for humanitarian reasons, decided to fund relocating them to a safe place. Finding another home for relocation is the responsibility of the residents, to whom one-time financial assistance has been granted, by decision of the Council of Ministers.
However, the lawyer noted that she has asked for clarification over this reference to a ‘one-off payment’, which she described as confusing, as no such financial assistance has been forthcoming. Instead, the Council of Ministers decided to grant an annual ‘favour’ payment in December towards rent of around €1,800 a year.
“I’m afraid the banks will not agree to a loan suspension if their borrowers receive compensation from the state to relocate and will never return to the home for which they took the loan, so this needs clarification.”
Some residents are sceptical at the government’s plans to stabalise the area anyway, noting that the land slide has been ongoing for around 10 years, and that it would take at least that amount of time again to stabilise it, and that the necessary pumping of water has not even begun yet.
“Nothing has been fixed yet and it is short sighted to think it has. It will take a good few years to see if the area can be stabilised and the ground will continue to move for some time after water has been pumped from the area,” said resident Simon Carroll, who also has engineering experience.
Along with his wife, the home owner has yet to receive an order to vacate and would refuse to do so anyway.
The couple’s four-bedroom home complete with a ‘granny flat’ was once a million euro property, he said, but now patios are lifting and dropping and one corner of the house has a tilt of around three percent, which means a ball, if dropped, will roll to that side of the house. The driveway is collapsing, and the first crack has appeared inside the property, in an unused spare room where daylight is now visible.
He will repair it and complained about the lack of information that is being passed on to residents by the authorities.
“I am not convinced that this ‘stabilisation’ plan will work, however we want to stay until they make an offer, but there has been no mention of compensation yet,” he said.