“A series of court cases accompanied with bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs is what I had to endure the last 10 years while trying to reclaim my property” Fanos Haralambous told Neos Kosmos while describing how he was ‘robbed’ of his property, located in the tourist area of Alaminou in Cyprus.

“I was under the impression that ownership over my land was never in doubt. In 1999 after my father’s death, I travelled back to Cyprus in order to register the property under my name as I was the legal heir. When I went to the relevant authority in Larnaka, that is the local Ktimatologio offices, an ugly surprise was waiting for me. I discovered that my ownership of the property was under dispute,” Haralambous said.

The Ktimatologio officials told him his ownership rights were disputed by another person who was claiming that, on the basis of the law called ‘Hrisiktisia’, he had gained legal ownership rights. According to the law of “Hrisiktisia” if the owner does not exercise his or her ownership rights over the property, at least from time to time over a period of twenty years in Greece and thirty years in Cyprus, another person can claim legal ownership of it.

The law does not exclude trespassers from earning legal ownership rights as long as they can prove that they were taking care of the property for more than twenty years in the case of Greece or thirty years if the property is located in Cyprus.

Fanos Haralambous’ father migrated to Australia in 1976 and back then, lot 79 or 80 (according to the different names) the officials gave him for his property during his legal battle was almost worthless. Today the Alaminou area is regarded as one of the most popular tourist areas in Cyprus and his land is worth a fortune.

“I am of the firm belief that corrupted officials got involved and robbed me and my late father from our property,” Haralambous said, adding that while his father migrated to Australia he would often travel back to Cyprus to oversee his property.

“They showed us forged documents,” Haralambous alleges, adding with disappointment, “they used the law and corrupted officials to throw me out of my property”. Haralambous’ case is still in the courts.

The final decision will be made in a couple of months but he is not optimistic about it.

“I feel trapped and helpless. My father was attending to the property when he was going to Cyprus and there were witnesses to prove that. The courts though dismissed them as too old and not able to testify,” he said.

While in the case of Mr Haralambous other factors apart from the law of “Hrisiktisia’ might have played a role in him losing his property, there are many second and third generation Greek Australians who might face similar challenges as we speak or in the near future.

As Christos Iliopoulos, Attorney of the Law and a specialist in International and European Business Law, told Neos Kosmos those at a greater risk to lose their properties on the basis of ‘Hrisisktisia’ are those who reside permanently outside of Greece.

“Owners of property in Greece or Cyprus must bear in mind that the more they abandon their property in Greece, the higher the risk to legally lose it someday,” he stressed emphatically. “The legal notion of ‘Hrisiktisia’ is based on the principle that properties must be cultivated or developed by their owners.

The owner must show up, at least from time to time, during those twenty years. The owner must have proof that he exercised, either in person or via a proxy, his property rights over the land, by building a fence, by defending the property against trespassers, by cultivating it, by developing it, by planting trees in it, by renting it out to others and by doing several other acts that prove the owner’s presence and his ownership,” Iliopoulos said.

The trespasser or the person that might legally claim your property in Greece does not have to notify the owner that domination has started in order to get the twenty-year period running. The law makes it absolutely clear that it is the owner’s obligation to check from time to time and as often as possible whether third parties are trespassing on his land.

Only in the case that the claimant of ownership is a co-owner is there a notification obligation.

“This means in plain words that if two brothers own the same piece of land in Greece, each of them having 50 per centab in division (undivided) of the same land, and the one brother lives in Greece, taking care of the property for himself and on behalf of his brother, who lives in Australia for example, the brother who lives in Greece cannot start the twenty-year domination over his brother’s half, unless he notifies him that he starts taking care of the property exclusively for himself and not on behalf of the brother who lives abroad,” Iliopoulos said.

Haralambous said fencing properties, visiting at least every few years and taking pictures of your land is a very important step.

“I know at least three friends who had to face similar situations. One of them lost her property forever. I hope I will not have the same fate,” Haralambous concluded, hoping that in the near future he will have his land back.