The Department of Lands and Surveys of Cyprus started its operations in the year 1858 and is considered to be the oldest governmental department of the public sector in Cyprus.
The "Idalio" inscription – 5th century B.C.
Land ownership has always been very popular amongst Cypriots. For various reasons (social, economic and cultural), the people of Cyprus have been very closely attached to the land. There is archaeological evidence that from the 6th millennium B.C. the Cypriots practiced agriculture on a communal basis and by 1400 B.C. the idea of individual ownership had developed. What can be described as a title to land is an inscription of the 5th century B.C., excavated at Dali village, indicating the development of private ownership in ancient Cyprus. The interesting features of this so called sign, is that it provides us with the evidence that at that moment in history, clear laws regarding land ownership were developed, which included personal land property laws, land ownership of the kings – something today called 'public or state land', land ownership of the cities, property owned by the church, property taxation and security of tenure and ownership even as appointed by the Gods.
The inscription excavated at Dali village has formed the basis for the creation of the new emblem of the Department of Lands and Surveys.
Over the Hellenistic Period, the Roman and Byzantine Times and the conquest of the Crusaders, the Franks and the Venetians, the land tenure patterns of Cyprus passed through a series of changes and transformations, with a prevailing characteristic of feudal tenure, a system of tenure based on social hierarchy, aiming at social order, without concern for the rights of the individual. There were the feudal lords – the owners of the land – and the serfs – slaves' cultivators who were attached to the soil and formed part of the land.
The period under the Ottoman occupation (1570-1878 AD) had the greatest influence on the patterns of land ownership and tenure of the 20th century. Initially, all rural land was declared by the Ottomans as crown land (miri) and the peasant-cultivator had a mere right of user, which, however, was inheritable, whereas certain lands were held in absolute ownership (M u l k). Under the Ottoman Land Code (1857), the Bundle of Property Rights was subdivided into the legal ownership (corpus) and the right of possession. There were five categories of land: Mulk, Arazi Mirie, Arazi Mevkoufe, Arazi Metrouke and Arazi Mevat. By far the most important were the first two. In Mulk (trees, buildings and village lands) both the legal ownership and the right of possession belonged to the owner of land (i.e. there was absolute ownership). In Arazi Mirie (cultivable land and forests), the legal ownership was vested in the State and the cultivator had the right of possession.
There were different rules of inheritance for Mulk and for Arazi Mirie, for Moslems and for non-Moslems and also different periods of prescription. For this reason, separate registrations had to be issued for land and trees or buildings standing thereon.
THE LAND OWNERSHIP PROBLEM
During the 19th century, the pattern of land tenure in Cyprus developed so as to serve the purposes of land use, within the framework imposed by the customs and traditions, and the economic, social, religious and political needs and circumstances of that time. The economy of the island was based on subsistence agriculture, with a self-supported, extensive cultivation, requiring a variety of soils and crops, to diversify the risks of unfriendly weather. This dictated the need for a scattered, fragmented type of ownership.
With changing economic conditions, intensive cultivation and specializations of labour of the 20th century, the pattern of land tenure failed to adapt to changing circumstances and the Land Ownership Problem was created, a serious case of a heavily ailing system of land tenure. The Problem was composite and its causes were many and varied. It had three main aspects multiple ownership, co-ownership in shares, and fragmentation. Multiple ownership - different owners for land and trees standing thereon - was mainly due to the need to issue separate registrations for land and trees as mentioned earlier. Co-ownership in shares was the result of the system of inheritance of Cyprus - all children inheriting a share in their parents΄ estate.
Fragmentation was the most serious defect of the tenure system and was accompanied by irrational subdivisions, bad shapes, lack of access and other evils.
Attempts For A Remedy
A defective system of land tenure can be remedied by the introduction of a kind of land reform, by changing, in other words and restructuring the rules and procedures of land tenure to make the tenure system consistent with the overall requirements of economic development.
A land reform normally involves major and frequently abrupt changes in the overall agricultural pattern of a country.
Sometimes, however, land reform may be attempted through less painful and less controversial but also less effective and slower means. An example of a radical approach is what is termed land consolidation, first introduced in Cyprus in 1969. However, much before that, an attempt by a gradual approach to a solution was made by the revolutionary legislation of 1945.
THE 1945 LEGISLATION
The Legislation of 1945 comprised mainly of two laws: The Immovable Property (Tenure, Registration and Valuation) Law and the Wills and Succession Law. The main objectives of the new legislation were pursued through two directions: by the immediate implementation of a series of negative measures, putting an end to the degenerating processes of multiple ownership and fragmentation and simultaneously, by the introduction of an ingenious set of voluntary positive stipulations, inviting an owner to seek the application of the remedy to his defective land.
The new legislation provided, in a nutshell, the following:-
(i) Abolition of the old categories of land;
(ii) Simplification of the periods and rights of prescription;
(iii) Fixing of minima to subdivision of land;
(iv) Gradual elimination of multiple ownership;
(v) Gradual elimination of co-ownership;
(vi) Rationalization of the rights of way;
(vii) Simplification of the law of inheritance.
The negative measures prevented the creation of more multiple ownership and excessive fragmentation. Already existing defects could be remedied by positive measures, the most important of which were rights of compulsory acquisition, rights of option, rights for re-adjustment of interest, rights of compulsory partition, or rights to sell a property at auction as indivisible. By a later stipulation, a right for compulsory acquisition of an easement was also created by the law.
The authority responsible for the application of the provisions of the Law was – and still is – the Director of the Department of Lands and Surveys, who was dressed with considerable powers. Under the Law, the Director has powers of enforcement of a quasi-judicial nature, as well as discretionary powers, both subject to the overriding power of the Courts.
The Significance of the 1945 Legislation
The legislation of 1945 must be seen as the first attempt by the State to put an end to the process of deterioration of the structure of land tenure which until then had been left to decline from generation to generation. Its introduction had a tremendous impact on the population, raising a wave of reaction, but welcomed also as a change which was long overdue.
Viewed in retrospect, the legislation of 1945 was the easiest way to a change, the "snail pace". As a legal piece of work, it can be considered as a clever, well-balanced academic masterpiece offering a slow and riskless remedy. Its restrictive provisions were a lesson for the creation of public conscience. Till 1945 there was an absolute immunity as to land use and the new law was introducing restrictions for the first time. On the other hand, it was something more than a mere series of static negative measures. It was a dynamic and positive approach to the problem of land tenure, offering ways and means to owners to achieve a remedy.
Effectiveness and Criticisms
The most striking effect of the new law was the rationalization and simplification of the law of property (categories of land, prescription and inheritance). However, the targets set by the law have been criticized as too limited and of restricted ambition. The generating forces creating more shares and fragmentation (system of inheritance and pressure on land) continued to exert their degenerative influence to the present day.
A specific point in the law which can be criticized is the way the two main categories of land – Mulk and Arazi Mirie – were merged into what was termed "Private Property". As explained earlier, the extent of ownership for agricultural land (formerly Arazi Mirie) which was by far the most important category was in theory, limited to the Right of Possession, Legal Ownership having been reserved to the State. Had this Legal Ownership been retained by the State, it would facilitate more effective and cheaper land use control attempted by later legislation (Streets and Buildings Regulation Law and Town and Country Planning Law).
However, the most serious shortcoming of the 1945 legislation was that it came too late. By the late 1960΄s it became evident that the sporadic and piecemeal remedy alone would not be sufficient to cope with the ever-worsening situation. A more drastic approach on a systematic basis was necessary, and this was land consolidation.
THE SYSTEM OF LAND REGISTRATION
Land registration is exercised by the Department of Lands and Surveys, one of the oldest Government Departments.
The system of land registration is a system of Registration of Title (as distinguished from Registration of Title deeds). The legal value of registration lies between an Indefeasible Title and a Defeasible Title. A registered person is considered to be the undisputed owner of the land and his title to ownership is absolute, subject to the Director's power to correct errors or omissions under certain circumstances, and the inherent power of the Courts to order and amendment or cancellation of a registration.
Land registration is effected either systematically and is compulsory in areas decided, or sporadically at the instance of private owners.
Registration may be either initial or by transfer.
The principal components of the land registration records include the Register, the Cadastral Plan, the Tax Register and the Certificate of Registration.
Registrable interests are freeholds, leaseholds with a term of 15 years or more unexpired and easements. Horizontal ownership is also registrable (flats).
Charges (e.g. mortgages, etc.) are also registrable.
RIGHT OF OWNERSHIP
Since the dawn of civilization when the importance of land started to be realized, land ownership has been linked with certain rights and duties for the owner which has evolved over the centuries to the idea of ownership, as it is understood today.
The most important duties of ownership are the duty to comply with all legislative requirements as to land use, enjoyment, development, or transfer of land, the duty to honor any contracts such as leases, grants or easements that may exist and the duty to pay all taxes and rates upon the land.
The basic rights in land are the right to the use and enjoyment of land, the right to income arising from land and the right to alienate or transfer land. The aggregate of ownership rights over a piece of land, comprises what has been termed as the Bundle of Property Rights.
BUNDLE OF PROPERTY RIGHTS
Even in freehold, land ownership rights are rarely absolute but may be restricted in different ways. If viewed as a Bundle, it is easy to understand how the rights of land ownership may be restricted.
The Bundle of Rights may be affected by contract entered into by the owner, by legislation, or by tenure.
Examples of restriction of a right by contract are the grant of an easement (e.g. right of passage) by the servient to the dominant tenement. In such a case, the servient owner restricts his ownership rights in favour of the dominant owner, by grant.
Examples of a restriction of ownership rights by legislation are the inclusion of a property in Schedule "B" of the Antiquities Law, the publication of a street widening scheme under S.12 of the Streets and Buildings Regulation Law or the declaration of a road as a "Trunk Road" under the provisions of the same law and many others.
An example of restriction by tenure is a case where under certain circumstances, on an owner's death, his property "escheats" to the State (e.g. Mahlul). Also, in the case of a lease (tenancy) the duration of enjoyment is restricted.