In Cyprus a demolition order is always issued when someone unlawfully constructs a building without a building permit, as George Coucounis explains.
A demolition order will be issued against the owner, or even the tenant, of a building in Cyprus when it is unlawfully built without a building permit or approval from the appropriate authority. The Court will avoid issuing such an order only in very rare cases.
The duty of the Court is to enforce the town planning/building legislation and to restore legality, despite any arrangements made by the individuals concerned or any difference between them.
On the other hand, when someone institutes a private criminal proceeding to secure a demolition order of his building to serve his own interests, to evict his tenant or licensee, such a proceeding will be considered as abusive of the process of the Court which will abstain from issuing the order. There are many buildings for which owners have not secured the necessary permits and/or approvals but they still manage to rent or granted license for their use. However, the Court will not issue an order for the demolition of the whole building when it has not all been built/is being used illegally.
The above issue is supported by the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court. An order for the demolition of an unlawful building can be avoided in case the violation of a term of the building permit is minor and the issue of an order for the demolition of the whole building would be a disproportional punishment. In such a case though, legality can be restored through an order for the demolition of the part of the building which is illegal.
The issue can be easily observed when an owner or a tenant extends the premises by closing a patio, adding a room or pergolas, constructing a storage room or even when a shop, either a restaurant, a cafeteria, a supermarket or a kiosk is extended with aluminium, glass or other materials without permit from the local or governmental authority. Such additions or extensions are unlawful and the Court when the matter is brought before it will issue a demolition order, unless the owner or the tenant secures a permit within two months.
The problem faced is the tolerance shown by the appropriate authorities for such unlawful buildings; they rarely issue criminal proceedings which should have been definitely issued without any delay.
It is not only up to the Court to ensure compliance with the relevant law and regulations but also up to the appropriate authorities to bring an offender before the Court as soon as a violation is observed. By doing so, many people will think twice before violating the law and know that the consequences upon them will be significant.
Referring to the issue of the abuse of the Court process, the Supreme Court of Cyprus adopted the approach of the Court of first instance to abstain from issuing a demolition order where an owner of a building took private criminal proceedings against his tenant to secure his eviction. The owner did not obtain a certificate of final approval for his shop as he ought to, and he tried to take advantage of that to have his tenant evicted. The owner having made certain alterations in the shop and without obtaining a building permit for them, he rented it out. Some time later, he decided to evict the tenant and take back possession of the shop.
The Rent Control Law did not allow him such a remedy and he thought that he could succeed through the issue of a private criminal proceeding accusing the tenant of using the premises without a certificate of final approval.
It was decided the prosecution was not a proper but an abusive one as the owner was not genuinely interested in the enforcement of the law, but in serving his own interests. The owner’s behaviour could not have been tolerated by the Court and it correctly refused to issue not only a demolition order but even to impose a penalty.
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.