for illegally altered homes
Plus, 23 April 2010
Building regulations rarely make for exciting reading and, at first
glance, a bill due to be passed through Parliament on Thursday, April
22, seems both complicated and dull, but in fact it is very significant
as it will lead to more than 1 million homeowners having to pay fines
of hundreds or even thousands of euros for violating previous construction
The draft law allows homeowners to declare any parts of their properties
that have been illegally altered and then pay a penalty to ensure they
will not be subject to any further action, including demolition and
more penalties, for the next 40 years.
The proposed law covers areas of homes that were originally planned
as balconies, garages or basements but have since been turned into
living spaces, known as "imiypaithrioi" ·
(semi-open) in Greek.
The construction industry has for years taken advantage of legal loopholes
to build homes with much more living space than they were permitted.
This allowed the builders to increase their profits while the buyers
paid less in taxes. There are few apartments that have been built over
the last 15 years that do not have at least a few square meters of "semi-open"
space that has been incorporated into a bedroom, bathroom or living
room. Similarly, it is unlikely that anyone who has bought a maisonette
since the mid-1990s has not benefited from a basement or a loft being
illegally turned into rooms.
Governments turned a blind eye to this practice for years until last
summer, when the New Democracy administration attempted to impose some
order by introducing a law that allowed homeowners to pay a one-off
penalty that exempted their properties from any further action. Although
the conservatives stressed this did not amount to legalization of the
properties, their plans hit legal obstacles, as the Constitution does
not allow illegal constructions to be recognized in this way.
PASOK is hoping its legislation will be approved because it has set
a 40-year time limit and, unlike the ND law, all the money raised from
the new penalties is to be reinvested in projects to create more parks
and playgrounds. "It appears that the new regulations are within the
spirit of Article 24 of the Constitution because they do not legalize
an illegally built area but impose a flat-rate fine for the homeowner
to maintain this area for a given period of time," Aristotle University
law professor Constantinos Gogos wrote in Sunday’s Kathimerini. New
Democracy had estimated it would raise some 2 billion euros for the
public coffers from its law. PASOK’s proposal will, in most cases,
lead to homeowners paying a little less.
The success of the measure - in terms of whether homeowners voluntarily
step forward to admit building law transgressions - will depend on
whether proper inspections are carried out and if those who do not
declare illegally altered areas in their homes will face stiff penalties.
Aware that previous building regulations have been flouted due to a
lack of checks, Environment Minister Tina Birbili, whose department
has drafted the law, said that private inspectors and officials from
town-planning offices would be sent out to check on buildings. Anyone
not declaring their illegally converted areas over the next eight months
would face a steep one-off fine and then smaller fines each year, she
There is, however, a more serious underlying problem that could scupper
the government’s plans, which is the sense of injustice many homeowners
feel at having to pay fines for properties they bought after town-planning
offices, land registries, lawyers and notaries had signed off on the
deals. Despite the fact that, in most cases, the properties were illegally
altered before being sold, no developers are facing penalties or legal
Homeowners who see a group of society, in this case developers, who
have been pampered by governments over the years and have never been
brought to account over their disregard for the law may well think
twice about paying the fine.
"The crucial question concerning these regulations is whether citizens
will abide by them in the face of a state that is unreliable and has
been pushing illegal construction for years," Yiannis Alavanos, head
of the Technical Chamber of Greece, wrote in Sunday’s Kathimerini.