Both tourism and the property market in Cyprus are being damaged by outdated and unworkable laws governing swimming pools, which have seen many complexes closing theirs over the last few years.
The problem is that Cyprus recognises communal pools found at private complexes as public ones and therefore applies stringent law geared towards public facilities.
Peyia councillor Linda Leblanc has been campaigning since 2007 to get Cyprus legislation to differentiate between private communal pools and public ones and said it should be simple to implement EU standards. Peyia is now being forced to take action and complex owners are getting visits from officials to comply, she said.
“This position is really damaging to Cyprus tourism and the property market. We are encouraging people to come here for holidays and to invest in property and then disadvantaging them by this stupid law. There is a big disconnect and it could be easily solved,” she told the Cyprus Mail.
Extensive requirements need to be met to be granted a licence for a communal pool, and most in Cyprus would not meet them. This covers specific construction requirements and facilities, a qualified lifeguard on duty and a professional pool maintenance supervisor. The lifeguard must be on duty at all times during the pool’s operating hours.
However, under EU standards, complexes that share a swimming pool for the use by the property owners, their guests and families are classed as a Type 3 swimming pool. This means it is covered by different standards to that of a public swimming pool and wouldn’t require lifeguards and so many of the other stipulations. Under this European standard, ‘public’ pools are defined as ‘open to everyone or to a defined group of users, not solely for the owner’s/proprietor’s/operator’s family and guests independently from paying an entrance fee’.
“All it takes is a proposal to change the law and for the interior ministry to act on that. It is possible to come up with solutions quite easily,” Leblanc added. With a few additions, the EU standard could be workable pretty quickly, she said.
And it now seems that privately owned holiday villas being offered for holiday rentals on Airbnb and similar sites are next on the radar. Owners of complexes are being informed that they don’t have the necessary swimming pool operating licence because the pools are regarded as public ones.
“We have had to close our communal pool as we just don’t have the room in the garden around the pool to add any toilets or showers and couldn’t afford a lifeguard. We are all livid and the value of my home has plummeted. They (authorities) are just happy to take our money and then cast us aside. I would tell buyers from abroad to be very careful about buying a property in Cyprus,” said one angry owner in Paphos, who wished to remain unnamed.
Communal property specialist living in Limassol Russell Flick started an online petition to change the law but it has so far failed to reach the 8,000 signatures required to get it before parliament. It is available to sign here.
He said the law urgently needs to be reviewed and “common sense applied.” He added that the district of Paphos seems to be the only area on the island, at present, applying the laws with such heavy handedness.
“A few years ago, around 180 complexes in Paphos were shut down almost overnight due to this law. They had been built and signed off, even though the pools didn’t meet the standards. This left owners unable to rent them out and significantly decreased their chances of selling them,” he said.
Having a lifeguard is an unreasonable requirement and the law shouldn’t be so hard to follow, he added.
In addition, the Airbnb market is also being targeted, so those renting out their villas for holiday lets may be required to have a lifeguard as well, he said.
“If a pool is being used as a commercial entity then there should be standards in place, such as safe design and a certified pool cleaner for example, but there’s no point setting a law if it’s not achievable. It’s all about proportionality, if it’s a 200-unit facility there should be a lifeguard but if it’s just 10 units, this is just not feasible.”
Owners at a 10-unit facility in Paphos with a communal pool were determined to obtain their licence, and were recently granted it.
“Firstly, there aren’t enough lifeguards for the beaches in Paphos, how on earth would there be enough to go around and how would people pay their wages. It couldn’t happen,” management committee secretary Neil Hughes said.
Owners were informed by letter that their communal swimming pool was operating without a licence and they needed to take action or close it. Three weeks later an official checked the facility and warned that if they did not comply with the law, they would be fined €85 a day for non-compliance or be forced to close the swimming pool.
“We are all owners or long-term renters, there are no holiday lets here. We all decided we wanted to keep the pool to use and to ensure the value of our properties were not negatively affected,” Hughes said.
A protracted process led to them obtaining a completion certificate, while a visit from health and safety officers followed and owners were informed that male and female changing rooms and toilets and showers needed to be added.
“We would never use these, all of our homes are a few steps away, we all shower in our properties,” he said. A first aid kit and chair also had to be in place and then the question of a lifeguard arose.
“At their next visit we produced a lifeguard who showed all of his paperwork. The officers are aware that he is not always on the premises, even though a couple of weeks ago we were granted our licence, but we have had to put up signs around the pool to say it’s closed.”
Although now regarded as ‘legal’ and at a cost of €2,000, the pool is only ‘officially’ open for one hour a week when the lifeguard is supposed to be there.
Hughes said that inspectors admitted that the lifeguard angle is not feasible but that they are ‘just implementing the law’.
“We are being treated like a public hotel pool which is not right. I agree with the safety, but the rest is ridiculous.”