So, who pays the old bills?
In relation to news reports about the 800,000 euros in debts that Orphanides owes to EAC and the subsequent purchase of the project by the Bank of Cyprus which leased the property to third parties, the new tenant can not have electricity power because the original owner (Orphanides) owed EAC in past unpaid bills. Now the new owner (BOC) paid 700,000 euros as a compromise to allow the tenant to have power.
Therefore, in whose name is the EAC charge made, as are other public services – the owners, the tenants or whom? Orphanides’ obligation for 800,000 owed to the EAC refers to the previous owner and not the new owner (BOC). So, if an apartment is sold and the previous owner owed the EAC, why should the new owner carry this burden? Is it the new owner’s responsibility or did the EAC fail to collect and looking for someone to charge the amount to?
A similar situation exists both with water bills and for phones. In the case of unpaid phone bills there is some kind of deposit kept for any non-payment. But in our recent experience, the previous owner of an apartment in Protaras owed 1,110 euros in water bills without the supply ever being interrupted and for the new owner to connect to the Water Board after the sale of the property, now has to pay the past dues. Is that fair?
Let us now come to the most outrageous of such cases, the billing of municipal and sewer charges. Instead of the authorities chasing down the tenants (who make use of the services), they charge the registered owner who may even have sold the property ten years ago. Unfortunately, the other example of property tax borne by individual buyers and not the owners, mistakenly has not been included and thus the developer / owner of ten years ago is required to pay for the sewerage, water, etc. of the buyer.
We discussed the matter during a public meeting that included the Minister of Interior and realised that there is an issue concerning errors and omissions in the law. In my view, the consumer should be paying the bills and not the owner and this should be corrected immediately, particularly now with the foreclosures and abandonment of properties (particularly by foreign buyers) burdening the original landlord with unpaid bills. What, then, is the responsibility of the former owner, and of the authorities?
In a typical example of the above case, the owner of a small apartment in Larnaca rented it for 280 euros a month to a former drug addict who after three months abandoned the property. The owner was charged with the water and electricity bills, even though both were in the name of the tenant. Now, the owner is expected to pay an additional 300 euros. Should the public services not have any responsibility for this? And why are they passing on their weaknesses to the new tenants or owners?
This issue is a serious problem for the banks as well, as they are acquiring properties in swap deals, but so they know what awaits them later?
In addition to the above situation, I would still expect to see how the charges are being dealt with for sewerage fees they used to charge for many years without the project ever proceeding and no indication when and if it will be completed.
A client in Platres is being charged for the past 10 years for sewerage, in addition to the cleaning of the cesspits of around 1,000 euros, for a project that has not only never been implemented, but no one knows if and when the project will be built.
And so at the end this charge will probably be carried forward for another 10 years even if it is not executed.
Surely, sewerage projects need time to be built, but should the owners also be given a maximum payment period to know when and if the project will ever be executed? Perhaps, for this issue the ombudsman ought to deal with the matter or even the Auditor General, because these relate to public projects that are incomplete or there is failure to collect payments, and the whole matter remains in limbo.
I will revert to this matter soon.