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04 December, 2022
 
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Mayor, minister trade barbs over fallen balconies

Debate rages over old buildings and asylum seekers but expert says local tenants also hard to evict

Newsroom

The collapse of two balconies in Paphos last week has stirred up debate about asylum seekers being cramped into old apartments, but an expert in the field says local tenants are also part of the problem as there are no laws that would force them to vacate a building in need of maintenance.

Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos and Interior Minister Nicos Nouris have been pointing the finger at each other over who is to blame for two balconies that collapsed in the western town, causing injuries including seriously wounding three asylum seekers.

Phedonos has accused the interior ministry of refusing to cooperate with Paphos municipal authorities to evict tenants in buildings that are deemed dangerous or in need of structural maintenance.

According to the president of the Association for the Promotion of Property Development, there are local tenants who refuse to vacate the premises for necessary structural maintenance work

But Nouris has fought back, saying the two balconies that collapsed in Paphos were in the jurisdiction of Paphos municipality, with the minister asking the mayor to keep him abreast of developments.

Phedonos said neither the minister nor his office had any authority to “seek updates” from the municipality, suggesting “instead it would be prudent for him and his minister to take such action that would offer municipalities the proper tools to face the problem.”

The mayor has been speaking out against property owners who have been cramping foreign nationals and asylum seekers in old buildings, with multiple tenants in each unit paying higher rent while living in dangerous conditions.

But the problem is not only asylum seekers according to an expert in the field, who pointed out that there were no laws that could allow authorities to force an eviction on an old building.

According to George Mouskides, who presides over the Association for the Promotion of Property Development, there are local tenants who refuse to vacate the premises for necessary structural work.

Mouskides, who spoke on state radio Monday morning, said in many cases tenants flatly refuse to leave because they considered “statutory tenants.”

Responding to a comment that the mayor had paid a visit to one of the buildings a year and a half before it collapsed last week, Mouskides said the inspection appeared to have been focused on living conditions and not the structural integrity of the building.

Mouskides said there should be a way where property owners of old buildings would be forced to secure occupancy certificates to prove the structure is suitable for occupancy and has complied with all standards.

Phedonos has called on the interior ministry to revisit the issue, saying “in most cases rent is being paid to property owners by the state itself through accommodation allowance.”

“The thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who are in Cyprus today are some of the best customers for some unscrupulous owners of unsuitable buildings,” Phedonos said.

Last week the mayor had criticized property owners for “cramping foreigners into tiny apartments,” saying instead of rent per unit, people were being charged 100 euros per head, with some owners having as many as 14 tenants in a two-bedroom apartment.

“They rent them out and considerable income which they could never have had otherwise,” Phedonos said.

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