The current lack of regulation in immovable property law in Cyprus means that co-owners should seek to reach mutually agreeable compromises, as George Coucounis explains.
The legal rights of co-owners of immovable property in terms of its possession, use and enjoyment are not properly regulated by the Immovable Property Law, except in certain cases. This lack of regulation can lead to problems. The co-owners of immovable property are very often close relatives, married couples, ex spouses, siblings or relatives. When there is a disagreement between these parties, disputes come up causing tension and unpleasant situations.
For example, where ex spouses remain co-owners of their marital home and one is forced to leave, the question raised is whether the spouse who left is entitled to claim rent or compensation from the other. He is not entitled to claim rent; such right is not based on co-ownership because both of them are entitled to the possession of the matrimonial house. The spouse can only claim compensation on the basis that he is deprived of his right to possess, use and enjoy the commonly owned house and not because the other has the exclusive use of it.
The situation is similar to the tenants in common, whereby one must compensate the other for the use of the property.
A divorced couple may also remain co-owners of the marital home and again the issue arises over whether the spouse who is forced to leave is entitled to return. In such a case, there is no relation between the two and the available remedy is the compulsory sale of the commonly owned house.
The law applies for any commonly owned property and it provides that where an immovable property is held in undivided shares and its partition is not possible, any co-owner may apply to the Director of the Land Registry for a certificate stating this. Upon the issue of such a certificate, the co-owner may serve a notice on the other co-owner together with a copy of the certificate informing him that, unless within 30 days they can agree to an arrangement where the property is allocated to one person or divided in a manner which does not contravene the law, he will apply to the Director to put up the property for sale by public auction.
The aforesaid procedure may cause injustice to the co-owner who is not financially able to buy the property in the public auction.
Another example is the case where although all co-owners agree to divide their commonly owned property, they do not agree on how to distribute it. Again, they have to result to the Director to solve the issue for them, depending on the value of the new plots to be created, on the number of the co-owners and on the readjustments.
The relevant procedure is timely and there may be co-owners who will not receive land but money, thus they will be deprived of their property. Furthermore, there is a case where a co-owner may decide to sell his share to a third person. The law gives the option to the other co-owner, if he so wishes, to buy the share himself by depositing the sale price and the transfer fees at the Land Registry within the time specified by the law. However, if he does not have the money to do so, he will not exercise the option to buy the share sold and he will become a co-owner with a stranger. It is possible thereafter for the new co-owner to take up the procedure for the sale of the property in public auction to buy the whole property himself.
Even the assessment of the reserved price by the Director does not safeguard the rights of the co-owner who is not financially able to buy the property at public auction.
Similar problems happen with half plots whereby again the Director plays an important role in their division among the co-owners. The law allows the division, provided the Director is satisfied that each separate sub-plot created can be properly possessed and used as a separate plot. If it is about a building, the co-owner who requests the division must submit a certificate of final approval in accordance with the provisions of the Streets and Buildings Law.
Taking into account the lack of regulations and/or a detailed law for the above issues, co-owners should always seek to reach a compromise for the benefit of all instead of using the aforesaid procedures which will cause them hard feelings and injustice.
George Coucounis is an experienced lawyer practicing in Larnaca, Cyprus.
Educated at University College (London) and Thessaloniki University (Greece), George is fluent in English and has been practicing law in Cyprus since 1982.