The blame game over the collapse of balconies on two buildings in Paphos in the space of 24 hours is well underway, as passing the buck in the event of a tragedy, or in this case a near-tragedy, is a national pastime.
Collapsing buildings in Cyprus is nothing new given the number of neglected structures especially in the old parts of the main cities. It’s a miracle that more people have not been killed or injured over the years.
This time around, five people were injured in the two collapses. The first three were Nepalese nationals whose balcony on the third-floor apartment fell, taking with it the two balconies underneath and breaking their fall. The second collapse was fortunately stopped by the pergola atop the restaurant on the ground floor. Passers-by also managed to escape injury in both incidents.
After Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos made some inflammatory statements on Saturday directed at the government, the ultra-sensitive interior ministry hit back immediately saying it was the local authority’s responsibility to take measures in cases of unsafe buildings.
Phedonos then fired off a lengthy missive to the minister, in which he also made some valid points. This was followed later on Sunday by another tit-for-tat response from the minister, all conducted very publicly through the media.
The issue of old, unsafe buildings is not new and there is no quick solution. Likely there is blame both with the local authorities and with the government as attention is only given to this problem when there’s an incident. Then when the fuss dies down, it’s put on the back burner until next time. Next time, however, could prove fatal.
What is new and more pressing here is that up to recently, those buildings would have remained empty for the most part, being too shabby to rent out. Now however, with the Pournara reception centre overflowing and no end to the migratory flow, unscrupulous landlords are packing third-country nationals into rundown spaces and receiving obscene amounts in rent.
And, if Phedonos is correct, it seems the government itself is abetting them because the rents are paid to the landlords by the state itself through rent allowances for asylum seekers. These unfortunate people then either have to live in an uninhabitable and unsafe building or face eviction with nowhere else to go when something happens.
Of course there are cases where a law-abiding landlord thinks he’s renting out to one or two people and a few months later realises there are ten people living there instead. There is no way to regulate this, and it’s not just happening in Cyprus but in most European capitals.
Even if a greedy landlord is told to either fix his building or have it declared uninhabitable, he would likely just ‘paper over the cracks’ as Phedonos said, and continue to get away with it. So short of setting up a massive task force of engineers to inspect every single building more than 30 years old there isn’t much that can be done except properly punish those who are caught and make an example of them as a warning to the rest.