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Our View: The foreclosure freeze needs to be abolished

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The ongoing farce regarding the freeze on foreclosures has been extended to the end of the year, after Wednesday’s meeting of the representatives of the banks and President Nikos Christodoulides. The freeze had come into force at the beginning of July, with banks and loan buying companies agreeing to not put any primary residence, valued up to €350,000, up for auction until the end of October.

This was a favour to the government, which had pleaded with the parties not to pass legislation suspending the foreclosures law and to wait instead for the drafting of a new legal framework that would allegedly protect primary residences. At the end of October the grace period sought by the government ended, but there was no new legal framework so the representatives of the banks and loan-buying companies were called to the presidential palace to discuss an extension.

The banks agreed to keep the freeze in place until the end of the year, to allow the finance ministry to complete its consultations with interested parties and draft legislation. It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with the existing foreclosures law and the government knows this, but in order to prevent the parties suspending it and undermining the banking system in the eyes of ratings agencies and the ECB, the finance minister came up with the idea of new legislation.

What will the new legislation do? Allow people not repaying their housing loans for years to delay the foreclosure for a few more years by giving them the right to appeal a court decision? In the meantime, the debt to the bank will be increasing, given the current level of interest rates, making their loans even more unaffordable. What would happen then? Would the government pass new legislation to protect the so-called vulnerable borrowers?

This is now beyond a joke. The very idea of ‘vulnerable’ borrowers is a sham. Someone who cannot afford to repay their housing loan, even after a restructuring, has to give up the primary residence and buy a cheaper residence or rent.  In effect, the existing foreclosures legislation is not being enforced, banks are expected not to pursue bad debts while the government is wasting time and resources on unnecessary legislation, so that people could carry on not repaying housing loans they cannot afford, because they have been classed as ‘vulnerable’.

Some of these ‘vulnerable’ borrowers may be holding on to a primary residence valued at €350,000, without having paid even half the value, so why are they being treated as homeowners deserving of protection? Politicians make it appear as if these vulnerable debt defaulters are going to lose their property unjustly, but could they claim ownership over a property they have not paid for? In the rational world ‘no’, but in a country run by populists, it is perfectly possible.

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