So, who pays the old bills?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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