Land is a major issue in Northern Cyprus. Not only is there a problem with who owns it but there is also a problem if you buy land of knowing where its borders are. There is a great deal of argument about Greek Cypriot land left behind in the north when they were forced to move to the south after the 1974 war and about the Turkish Cypriot land left behind in the south. My own opinion about this issue is that it is best to never have an opinion about something which is as complex as ownership when one owner has possession and another owner has a contract showing ownership and what divides them is the chaos resulting from the occupation of Greek and Turkish Cypriot land by their opposite numbers. To this end it is best not to get involved with purchasing land whose ownership falls in this category. Something which was a lot easier when we were purchasing land
So having purchased pre-1974 Turkish land there is a problem of determining the borders of this land. Our land consisted of 3 separate parcels of land sold as one lot. This was very old arable land in which no borders were clearly determined. All the parcels of land ran into one another.
I should have been forewarned when, being shown around by a land expert who worked for Land Registry, he had difficulty showing us where our land actually was. We looked at the map and could see that it was bordered on two side by a road and we could see the same from standing on the land and looking down at the road below. The only problem we thought was how far from these two borders the land stretched. Obviously our ï¿½expertï¿½ stretched this further than was the reality, but it was not until a lot later that we realised actually how far.
We were excited, we hastily bought the land, we could repent at leisure as smug bastards are heard to tell all the fools who rush in pushing angels out of the way in order to become ï¿½land ownersï¿½. After we had gained permission to purchase, we found a builder whose first step was supposed to be, according to our contract, to clear the land and arrange for a Land Registry visit to stake out various points showing the land borders. We designed the villa with pool and met with him to decide its position on the land. This was simple on the ground, we looked over the edge of our land down a quiet valley to the sea, that where we would like the villa to face and for the pool to be placed. The only problem was the lack of Land Registry stakes showing the borders.
We pressed the builder for this to be done, especially after the builder had drawn a green house on our map and it turned out to be facing the wrong way. Finally he seemed to relent and brought along his ï¿½Land Registryï¿½ man. We were told that he used to be in charge of the Registry and it was quicker to get his friend than wait for months for a real Land Registry team to turn up. We were trusting, he was trusting, and the ex-head of the Land Registry was an idiot! But we didnï¿½t know it at the time.
The process started well, we followed him around and he explained that the reference he should be using had been destroyed by a bulldozer when the land was being cleared so he would have to find a point further away. He found it after a long look and started measuring whilst looking at his watch regularly. One by one the stakes he was hammering seemed to coincide with the map and to make sense. The problem was that the road on the map was not the road below us it was a smaller, 1920ï¿½s version of the road. This meant that the front border of our land shrank about 10 meters because of later road expansion. This does not seem much of a change but it was enough to cause us to reduce our villaï¿½s depth and lengthen its width. No problem apart from the fact that our rear border was getting a bit close to the villa.
By this time our ï¿½expertï¿½ was telling our builder he had to return to Nicosia to get ready for a dinner party. We needed more points to determine the awkward rear of the site so he rushed and made one mistake which we were not to discover for 18 months.
We looked out our staked out land and were a little disappointed. What had started out as a massive site had shrunk to half its size with a large chunk difficult to reach as it was over the side of our front border. We comforted ourselves with the thought that what remained was enough for a villa, pool, a couple of gardens and a drive and large hardstand next to the house. The bonus was that the ï¿½expertï¿½ explained that even though his survey had showed that our access drive was not owned by us as it was owned by the government and as they had cut away our access for road widening, they would not mind us using it. He also explained that lots of other land adjoining us was government owned and we believed him.
Eighteen months later a group of people walked onto our land with a policeman explaining that they were from the Land Registry and were staking out our neighbours land so he could determine its borders. We chatted with the owners, looked at their deeds and showed them ours and realised that the land had been owned all along. It was at that point that a Registry man found the reference point that our ï¿½expertï¿½ could not find and which we thought was now under our pool. As measuring proceeded it became clear that the triangle of land we thought pointed away from us did the opposite. Our neighbour owned a piece of our hardstand, some of our perimeter wall and more importantly our ability to drive a car onto the hardstand.
Negotiations with our neighbour with the help of our builder seemed to resolve the problem, he was prepared to swap the triangle of land for a rectangular piece we owned. As the neighbour was about to leave he dropped a bombshell, his brother-in-law owned our drive and only access to our land!
The a few days later his brother-in-law turned up with a Land Registry man to find out that 90% of his land had been rendered useless because of road expansion and the 10% that might have been useful was a 8 meter wide by 25 meter strip a 3 meter strip of which we were using as a drive. He was so upset we never saw him for months. By this point we thought everything was resolved and forgot all about it, meaning to sort out the swap when the building was completely finished and our deeds were updated with the inclusion of the villa and pool. But there was this uneasy feeling that our builder was concealing something from us.
I retired and we went to the villa for a 10 week stay. Our builder was desperately trying to finish the contracted work so he would be paid his ï¿½5,000 retainer. We had never seen the work progress so fast, soon only a few things remained: cement the slippery slope leading to our hardstand, finishing work inside the villa and the final documentation needed to complete the project.
The builderï¿½s men had laid reinforcement on the slope and were ready to concrete it. Suddenly our neighbour appeared, angry at something. It turned out that he had never agreed to the land swap and he wanted the concreting to stop immediately as it was leading to his triangle of land on the hardstand. The workers were sent away and another meeting was arranged with our builder.
From this meeting it became clear that he did not want a land swap he wanted money. After a quick calculation using the going rate of land I offered him ï¿½1000 for his 45 square meters of land. He said he wanted ï¿½7000 so I stopped negotiating and told our builder to arrange a proper Land Registry visit to determine where he was going knock down walls and rebuild them at his expense. We would have an odd looking hardstand which could not be used as such but at least we would not end up with a protracted border dispute.
We were so glad we still had the ï¿½5000 retainer. It was at this point that the builder asked for his money. I was stunned but tried not to show it and politely explained that the money was not to be released until the contract was fulfilled. Not having the walls I had paid for and having no access drive constituted, I patiently explained, constituted non completion of the contract. He left with talk of him arranging the Land Registry visit later on in the week, and that he would think about alternative access at the front of the site. He admitted that this could cost anything between ï¿½3-5000.
The next day the brother-in-law who owned the drive arrived. We had expected this but had not expected him to arrive with his architect. We were intrigued. We quickly discovered what he wanted. The land had been to build a house for his son and he had been depressed when he realised that this would now be possible. He put his idea to us. Would we be willing to swap access for a land swap which would enable him to build his house? After looking at his ideas we said that as long as our view was not blocked and that the house was on the edge of our land we were in principle in agreement. He seemed happy, we were happy, we had been here before.
While we waited for the Land Registry visit we heard a story about a man who had had such a visit, had built a wall where they said his border was only to discover when his neighbour had his Registry visit that his wall was one meter onto his neighbourï¿½s property, or not depending on which visitation you believed. Coincidently as we were listening to this story another neighbours Registry visit was taking place and two of their men jumped from our wall into our garden, happily confirming our border and at the same time giving us some extra land on the road below us apparently making it possible for us to build a wall across another neighbours front entrance. We had no idea what to expect of our own impending visit.