Prior to 1974, the idyllic island of Cyprus was a country united, with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots living peacefully together.
Sadly, all this changed when the Greek military government that were in power at that time became unhappy with the policies of the, then, Cyprus President Archbishop Makarios. As a result of this, and partly as a distraction from domestic opposition, a coup was organised on July 13th, 1974. Nikos Sampson was declared president and announced union with Greece.
In protest, the Government of Turkey sought British intervention but were unsuccessful and within 7 days invaded Cyprus claiming a right under the London and Zurich agreements to bring back order. The outcome of the invasion led to 37% of Cyprus land falling within the Turkish occupied zone and over 170,000 Greek Cypriots fled from their homes in the north and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots fled northwards from their homes in the south.
In 1983, Turkish Cypriots proclaimed independence which was, and is still today only recognised by Turkey itself and plays an important role in the current status of land and property in the northern part of Cyprus.
When you buy a property, the actual contract is for ownership of the land that the house or flat is situated on. The dwelling in itself is a bonus i.e. adds to the value of the land but in transference of deeds it is the land that you should be legally gaining ownership of.
In light of the 1974 invasion, the land in the north of Cyprus is effectively still under the ownership of the escapee refugees or indeed members of their immediate family.
If you are given the opportunity to purchase property in the North of Cyprus, this means what you are actually purchasing is only the dwelling itself. The deeds relating specifically to the land will not be transferred as the vendor of the property does not own the land the dwelling is situated upon.
Although there have been many talks and negotiations about the future reunification of the north and south of Cyprus, it is unlikely to be rectified in the immediate future. However, should a settlement be agreed you may then find that any deed giving you the right to ownership of the dwelling will have no value as you do not have the rights to land on which it sits.
Buying property in the north of Cyprus is initially an attractive prospect as property is significantly cheaper than in the southern part of the island, but, this in itself is as a result of the future uncertainty associated with land ownership and the future risk of losing your investment all together. In fact, in recent years, in a number of cases, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the owners of the property prior to 1974 are still considered to be the legal owners of the land and as such, purchasers of the land may, in the future, face proceedings of a legal nature despite the fact that they may be residing in the UK or other European countries.
There has been at least one such case where the purchasers where successfully prosecuted and the ruling was enforced against them in the UK which also put their UK assets at risk.
Furthermore, in 2006 the Republic of Cyprus criminal code was amended to incorporate the following new rules in relation to purchasing property in the north of Cyprus.
Buying, selling, renting, promoting or mortgaging a property without the permission of the owner (the person whose ownership is registered with the Republic of Cyprus Land Registry, including Greek Cypriots displaced from northern Cyprus in 1974) is a criminal offence.