We often hear about different kinds of title deeds in the TRNC. To be able to understand them properly, we have to learn how they came into existence, and so it will be useful to have a look at the history of the property issue in Cyprus.

Let us first very briefly remember what happened in Cyprus. As we all know, the Cyprus Republic was founded after the 1959 Zurich and London Agreements. The UK, Turkey and Greece signed those treaties. The leaders of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot Communities were also signatories.

The principle adopted in these treaties was the equality of two Communities. In 1960, the Cyprus Constitution was accepted and the principle of equality was manifestly expressed.  According to the Constitution, the Greek Cypriot President and Turkish Cypriot Vice-President could veto each other’s decisions. Therefore they had to run the country jointly. In the Legislative Assembly, major laws had to be passed separately by the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot members of the Parliament.

In the Judiciary a neutral foreign president was appointed to the Constitutional Court. He had two assistants, one Greek Cypriot and the other Turkish Cypriot. Thus the founders of the Republic tried to establish equality in all organs of the Government. They hoped that the equality of the two communities would be maintained for a long time. Unfortunately the Greek Cypriot leaders were not happy with this arrangement.

In 1963, the Greek Cypriot leaders asked for the amendment of 13 sections of the Constitution. The Turkish Cypriot leaders realised that if they accepted, the principle of equality would be abolished and the Turkish Cypriot community would become a minority. Therefore they rejected the suggested amendments. This did not put an end to Greek Cypriot ambitions. They tried to change the constitutional order by force. As a result, Turkish Cypriots withdrew into small enclaves. However, they managed to establish their own administration, independent of the Greek Cypriot government.  The two Communities started making their own laws separately. Each Community ignored the laws of the other.

After the 1974 Peace Operation, the Turkish Cypriot Administration was consolidated in the north of the island. In 1975, an exchange of population agreement was reached between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders. The UN supervised the exchange. After that the Turkish Cypriot leaders wished to solve the property problem globally. They believed that when exchanges of population take place, global exchange of properties was the only route to follow.

The Turkish Cypriot leaders were hoping to follow the peace model achieved between Turkey and Greece in 1922. Exchanging populations and properties simultaneously was a solution adopted then. During intercommunal negotiations, the Turkish Cypriot leaders pressed for a global exchange of properties. However, the Greek Cypriot leaders had different ideas. They wished to turn the clock back and re-establish pre-1974 conditions on the island. Therefore they refused any kind of agreement.

In 1983, Turkish Cypriot leaders lost hope of reaching a settlement and the TRNC was founded. In 1985, a referendum took place and a new Constitution was accepted. That Constitution took into consideration that the property issue could not remain unsolved forever and the Government started to implement the global exchange of properties principle unilaterally. Therefore all properties left by the Greek Cypriots in the North were declared government properties. It was declared that Greek Cypriot property owners would be compensated with Turkish Cypriot properties left in the South. This could be done after an agreement, with the consent and help of the two Governments.

After 1985, the TRNC Government started to give title deeds to those who had left properties in the South.  These properties were colloquially called “Eşdeğer”.  It means a property with equal value. Later, other title deeds were given for social reasons. Colloquially, they were called “TMD” lands.

The Greek Cyprus government ignored any law made on the Turkish side. Needless to say they did not recognise any of the new titles given by the TRNC government. They declared that property rights cannot be violated and everyone has the right to return to his home. However they started to confiscate most of the valuable Turkish Cypriot lands left on the Greek side, but refused to pay any compensation to the Turkish Cypriot owners. They declared that compensation would be paid after the solution of the Cyprus problem. The rest of the Turkish lands were put under the control of the Greek Cypriot government. When we observe these developments, we can say that the principle of global exchange of properties was implemented directly on the Turkish side and indirectly on the Greek side.

The two countries applied their laws separately and independently from each other. Later, in 2004, a new legal situation emerged. The Greek Cypriot government was accepted into the EU, representing the whole island.

Some countries have a strong desire to turn the EU into a federation.  They forced the EU to accept Regulation 44/2001. According to this Regulation, court judgments in one EU country could be executed in another.  Greek Cypriots were quick to make use of this Regulation. As we all know, the Orams case became a test case. The Orams family was sued by the original Greek Cypriot owner of their property in the Greek Cypriot courts. The Greek Cypriot court applied its own laws.

Judgment was given without allowing the Oramses to put forward any defence. Then the Applicant tried to execute the judgment in England. The European Court of Justice (ECJ), with its judgment given on 28 April 2009, approved this procedure.

The Greek side achieved remarkable success in the Orams case. After the judgment of the ECJ, properties in the North fell into different categories:

Pre-1974 British or Turkish titles: 

These properties had always been owned by a British or Turkish person. No Greek person had any claim on them. So they were immune from “Orams-style” procedures. They were reliable properties.

“Eşdeğer” and “TMD titles”: 

Both these titles could face some difficulty if and when the original Greek Cypriot owner challenged them in a Greek Cypriot court and asked for execution in another EU country.  Some people think that “Eşdeğer” land is more valuable than TMD land, because if and when the original Greek Cypriot owner challenges the new owner in a Greek Cypriot court, the “Eşdeğer” land owner may put forward a stronger defence.  He may say that his property is connected with a property in the South. Then the Greek Cypriot court would be obliged to give him back at least one of these properties. Taking into consideration that properties are more valuable in the South, “Eşdeğer” properties could be more secure.  However these were all hypothetical considerations created by the Orams case.  No-one tested them and now it is impossible to test this procedure.

According to the principle adopted by the ECJ in the Orams case, all lands in the North with an original Greek Cypriot owner became unreliable. However this principle did not last for a long time. In less than a year, on 1 March 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) gave a different judgment.

In the Demopoulos case, the ECHR said that there is no principle that Greek Cypriot people have a right to return to their original properties. Not only original Greek Cypriot owners but also current possessors of houses in the North have human rights. Greek Cypriots making any claim to their properties in the North should apply to the Immovable Property Commission established in the North.

The Immovable Property Commission (IPC) was founded in 2005 and has been functioning since then. According to the Demopoulos judgment, decisions by the IPC are satisfactory and in line with human rights. Thus the ECJ judgment in the Orams case was overturned.

The Greek Cypriot Government was not happy with the ECHR judgment and tried to circumvent it, but without success. Therefore it seems that the ECHR judgment in the Demopoulos case is going to remain as the rule of the country.

At the time when the Demopoulos case was discussed at the ECHR, the IPC had finalised 85 applications. In 79 of them, compensation was awarded to the original Greek Cypriot owner. In four of them, properties were returned and in two, exchange-of-property applications were approved.

It is important to know that according to the law 67/2005, which established the IPC, only properties without any owner in the North can be returned to the original Greek Cypriot owner or can be exchanged. This means that a property owned by someone according TRNC laws cannot be taken away from him. The original Greek Cypriot owner will be compensated and the Government will pay the compensation. Therefore we can easily come to the conclusion that all titles whether “Eşdeğer” or “TMD land” are safe in the TRNC. However this security is only for registered properties.

Unfortunately when a foreigner buys a property in the TRNC it takes a long time before it is registered. A period of insecurity occurs between the purchase and the registration. In the beginning, it was quite difficult to secure the rights of the purchaser. This is the reason why many purchasers encountered difficulties. Later, in 2007, the TRNC Government passed the Estate Agency Law. One of the objects of this law was to make property-buying more secure in North Cyprus. It enabled the purchasers to register their contracts at the Lands Registry Office. This meant that the dangers of an interim period could be avoided.

However, even with the new law, one has to be careful and should take the advice of a reliable lawyer.

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