On 12.12.2023, the Sale of Land (Specific Performance) (Amending) Law of 2023 (L. 132(I) of 2023) (hereinafter the “Amending Law of 2023”) was published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cyprus.
The Amending Law of 2023 is read together with the Sale of Land (Specific Performance) Laws of 2011 to 2020 (hereinafter the “Main Law”), with the Amending Law of 2023 and the Main Law being referred to together as the “Sale of Land (Specific Performance) Laws of 2011 to 2023”.
This article briefly analyses a completely new procedure implemented by the Amending Law of 2023, which aims to provide preemptive protection with regards to the rights and interests of purchasers of immovable property, in cases where the immovable property happens to be encumbered by a pre-existing mortgage.
Formalities Necessary for the Lodging of a Contract in Cases where the Immovable Property Happens to be Encumbered by a Pre-Existing Mortgage
A key change introduced by the Amending Law of 2023 relates to the requirements that must be met for the lodging of a contract with the District Lands Office (“DLO”), in cases where the contract concerns immovable property encumbered solely by a pre-existing mortgage or contract and the registered owner of such is not subject to any restriction/prohibition.
In addition to the already existing requirements that have to be met for the lodging of a contract with the DLO to be accepted, as these are set out in sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1) of section 3 of the Main Law, the lodging of a contract, in cases where the circumstances described above apply, now necessitates the inclusion of specific written declarations.
The Amending Law of 2023 specifies that the lodging of the contract will be accepted only if it is accompanied by the written declaration of each mortgagee and seller, in relation to which the purchaser confirms knowledge (according to Form A of the Annex), or the written declaration of the purchaser (according to Form C of the Annex).
Form A of the Annex
By means of Form A, the mortgagee and the seller undertake in writing that, if 95% of the contract amount, including any advance payment already received by the seller, is deposited by the seller and/or purchaser into a specific bank account (deposit account) maintained in the name of the seller, then a relevant payment certificate will be issued to the Purchaser immediately (in accordance with Form B of the Annex).
Form A records a commitment on the part of the mortgagee in that, upon payment of the aforementioned amount and issuance of Form B, it shall release or alleviate the immovable property from the encumbering mortgage, but also that, in case of failure on its part to do so, the purchaser shall have the ability to submit Form B with the Department of Lands and Surveys, duly signed and stamped by the mortgagee. In such an instance, the Director (Department of Lands and Surveys) shall proceed to transfer the immovable property into the name of the purchaser.
The purchaser, by signing Form A, certifies that they have received knowledge of the above commitments.
Furthermore, with relevant additions to Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Main Law, the Amending Law of 2023 explains the practical implementation of the procedure arising from Form A, the consequences that the mortgagee will face in case of non-compliance with its commitment and how the Director (Department of Lands and Surveys) can proceed to transfer the immovable property into the name of the purchaser upon being presented with a duly completed, signed and stamped Form B.
The introduction of Form A and the related procedure seeks to bring about the preemptive protection and safeguarding of interests. These new introductions act as a safeguard for the benefit of all parties involved and especially the purchaser, setting out precisely the actions that must be carried out by the seller and/or the purchaser for the mortgagee to comply with its simultaneously granted commitment to alleviate the property from the encumbering mortgage, as well as the procedures/consequences that may be implemented in case that the mortgagee fails to honour its commitment.
The procedure arising from Forms A and B ensures that the mortgaged property will be transferred freely to the purchaser, once the purchaser has fulfilled its contractual obligations towards the seller.
Form C of the Annex
Alternatively, the Amending Law of 2023 allows the lodging of a contract by including Form C, through which the purchaser essentially acknowledges the existence of an encumbering mortgage affecting the immovable property and assures that it wishes to proceed with the lodging of the contract without it being accompanied by Form A of the Annex.
Form C does not seek to safeguard purchaser rights to the same extent as Form A. In fact, Form C circumvents the whole procedure set out by Form A.
However, it cannot be overlooked that Form C also contributes to the advance safeguarding of purchaser interests by enabling a purchaser to become aware of the existence of an encumbering mortgage affecting the property in question, but also to confirm its willingness to proceed with the lodging of a contract without the use of Form A.
The introduction of Forms A, B and C of the Annex is undoubtedly a positive development, since it implements a new practice that seeks to safeguard the procedures related to purchasing and transferring of immovable property. In order to solve a serious problem that has arisen in recent years, Forms A, B and C aim to better inform and safeguard in advance the interests of a purchaser, who, despite having fulfilled its obligations towards a seller, ends up dealing with a seller who is unable to transfer the immovable property due to the existence of a mortgage.
Greater awareness of the parties involved and completion of real estate transactions without complications contribute to the strengthening of the real estate market, whilst at the same time inspire more confidence on the part of purchasers in relation to the legislative framework that governs the whole process in cases where the property for sale is encumbered by a mortgage.
Apart from the positive elements deriving from the introduction of Forms A, B and C of the Annex, we consider it appropriate to conclude with the following comments, which potentially reveal a need or improvement of the phrasing contained in the aforementioned Forms and clarification of the new procedure implemented by the Amending Law of 2023:
(i) The additional formalities introduced by the Amending Law of 2023 are not exclusive to cases where the property is only encumbered by a pre-existing mortgage. In fact, the Amending Law of 2023 expressly states that the additional formalities also apply to cases where the property is only encumbered by a pre-existing contract. Nonetheless, this does not seem to be reflected by the phrasing contained in Forms A, B and C, which deals exclusively with the case of a pre-existing mortgage, without containing any reference whatsoever in relation to a pre-existing contract.
(ii) Forms A, B and C refer only to seller and purchaser. This implies that these Forms apply only in cases involving the sale and purchase of immovable property. However, such an approach is incompatible with Article 2 of the Main Law and specifically with the definition of the term “contract”, which includes various types of contracts such as assignment, distribution, and exchange contracts.
(iii) Forms A, B and C require for the description of the purchased unit that has been erected and/or will be erected on the property to be recorded. Such phrasing does not seem to be consistent with cases where the contract does not relate to the purchasing of a unit but instead concerns the purchasing of a field or plot.
(iv) The mortgagee’s commitment provided through Forms A and B is conditional on the payment of 95% of the contract value to a predetermined deposit account. This means, however, that the mortgagee is not obliged to extinguish the mortgage, despite the whole value of the mortgage having been deposited, unless 95% of the contract value is first deposited in that account, an amount which may exceed the total value of the mortgage.
(v) Forms A, B and C refer to cases where the immovable property forming the object of the contract is affected by a pre-existing mortgage. Nevertheless, this wording is not consistent with cases where the object of a contract is only part of an immovable property, which part has no connection whatsoever with a pre-existing mortgage that happens to exist in relation to another part of the immovable property which is not for sale and belongs to another co-owner.
The issues raised through the above commentary are expected to be clarified and addressed over time. The Amending Law of 2023 is very recent and, therefore, the practical implementation and application of the procedure arising from Forms A, B and C cannot yet be properly evaluated.
According to information we have received from the Department of Lands and Surveys, it is expected that the officers of the District Land Registry Offices will be continuously provided with guidance and informative circulars, so as to be in a better position to provide information to the public with regards to the new procedures introduced through Forms A, B and C and their proper implementation, aiming to achieve the objectives of the Amending Law of 2023.