Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos has hit back at the interior ministry which on Saturday called on the municipality to assume its responsibilities after balconies on two buildings collapsed in the space of 24 hours, injuring a total of five people.
In a lengthy response, Phedonos told the ministry to look in the mirror. Not only had the government done nothing since 2019 when a building collapsed in Nicosia, but it was also aiding and abetting greedy landlords by allowing them to pack third-country nationals and asylum seekers into unsuitable buildings by paying the rent directly to the owners through the welfare department.
“Thousands of immigrants and political asylum seekers who are in Cyprus today are the best customers of some unscrupulous owners of unsuitable buildings and they receive significant incomes that they would not have under normal circumstances,” he said.
“In most cases the rents are paid to the landlords by the state itself through rent allowances so as a matter of principle, the minister of their interior has no authority to request information about the actions of the municipality. Instead, it would be good to fall back on the actions that he and the ministry should take to deal with the problem”.
In the early hours of Friday a third-floor balcony where three Nepalese nationals had been sleeping collapsed. The structure fell onto the second and first-floor balconies taking them with it. The three people were seriously injured. At noon on Saturday on Poseidon Avenue, a balcony collapsed onto the pergola of a restaurant, injuring two people.
The interior ministry later on Saturday blamed the municipality and called on it to account for failures to follow the buildings laws when it came to unsuitable structures.
Phedonos, in his response, said the ministry should therefore supply the necessary resources. He recalled the building collapse in Nicosia in February 2019 after which the ministry said it would work on amending legislation with the technical chamber Etek. He asked what had become of this.
He also said that in January, the municipality has issued two decrees prohibiting the use and occupancy of two buildings in the municipal area of Paphos. “However none of the involved state services cooperated with the municipality to evict the tenants, even though they were informed immediately, both in writing and verbally,” he said.
“In fact, some of these services continued to subsidise the rental of apartments in the buildings in question for the benefit of the owners while they knew about the declaration that the buildings in question were deemed unfit for habitation.”
The government, he said, made no effort to find suitable places to move the people who lived in these buildings, the vast majority of whom were asylum seekers or immigrants who receive benefits and rent allowances.
Despite this lack of action by the state, the municipality would go ahead and evict the people from the two buildings where the balconies collapsed.
“I publicly warn against assigning responsibility to the municipality of Paphos for the fact that approximately 300 men, women, including pregnant women and children, will be on the street,” he said.
Phedonos said that in the case of the first building the owners had failed within 24 hours as required by law to carry out the necessary measures to make it safer. On Saturday, it was the municipality that had take steps to make the building safer for passers by, at least, he said.
The owners and tenants, after being informed by the officials from the municipality and the mayor himself, refused to leave the building and an official from the welfare office was duly informed to ensure that at least the tenants of the three apartments from which the balconies collapsed were transferred to a hotel.
The municipal engineer has given a statement to police in order to investigate possible criminal responsibilities by the owners of the building who have been sent official notices to immediately appoint an architect to repair the buildings.
The owner of the second building on Poseidon Avenue is in Australia, the mayor said, and has not been located so far but the tenant on the ground floor, the restaurant, has taken every precaution to ensure that no one passing by is at risk, he said. “From a visual inspection by the municipal engineer, the building does not show any visible stability problems,” he said.
He called on the interior ministry without delay to proceed with new legislation to require all owners of buildings more than 30 years to be obliged to secure a certificate of suitability or face severe penalties.
“Without appropriate and modernised legislation, it is impossible to effectively deal with this problem, which will intensify in the coming years due to the aging of the buildings,” he said.
These incidents, he added, seem to be attributed on the one hand to bad practices of the past that allowed the use of inappropriate construction materials and on the other hand to the “irresponsible attitude” of the owners who literally “paint over the cracks”.