Calls for sanction on landlords stockpiling vacant properties

Focus Ireland rejects suggestion landlords need incentives to renovate vacant houses

Focus Ireland said “the whole property market is a pile of carrots already” and “a few more sticks might be part of the answer”. Photograph: PA

Focus Ireland said “the whole property market is a pile of carrots already” and “a few more sticks might be part of the answer”. Photograph: PA

 

Landlords should face penalties if they leave homes empty, rather than being offered “carrots” encouraging them to rent them out, said a leading homeless agency.

Responding to suggestions that there should be grants and tax incentives for private landlords to renovate vacant housing, Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland, said “the whole property market is a pile of carrots already” and “a few more sticks might be part of the answer”.

“An empty building in Dublin is a huge public resource, and our inability to access them is causing a lot of misery, so there should be some cost to the people who are stockpiling or hoarding vacant units,” he said.

“You would obviously need to look at where there would be exemptions and so on, but we need to push the onus to the property owner to explain their situation, rather than just constantly offering them more and more incentives.”

Figures produced by the Housing Agency, based on the 2011 census, show there are more than 230,000 vacant properties, the majority of which are in private ownership.

Mr Allen said it was very well worth exploring the potential of vacant properties, but people needed to move on from talk and big numbers.

“What are the things you are going to do on Monday to turn this from big numbers that might be a solution, into actually a home that a particular family can move into?” he asked.

Conor Skehan, chairman of the Housing Agency, has said the vacancy figures are twice the level they should be and suggested there should be incentives offered to landlords.

These would include grants to refurbish the properties, to bring them up to rentable standard, and a tax break on income from rental for two to three years.

Ghost estates

Mr Skehan also said, before any decision is made on how to tackle vacant properties, up-to-date figures are required from the most recent census, compiled by the Central Statistics Office.

But he said he did not expect the new figures to be very different from those available from 2011, despite the economic upturn and the renovation of ghost estates. Ghost estates would only account for between 5,000 and 6,000 units, he said.

The Irish Property Owners’ Association said they would welcome incentives. They have called for a five-year programme to “open the door” to property “left abandoned as a result of owners’ inability to refurbish to the required standards”.

Stephen Faughnan, chairman of the association, said tax relief had been cut, there had been an increase in standards, USC and PRSI was introduced on rent, as were property tax and water charges. These had “crippled the sector and proved a total disaster for tenants”.

“Instead what is needed are incentives to help owners refurbish and keep this much-needed, centrally located accommodation in the market,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the organisation also said they did not know if the figures for vacant properties would have changed much since 2011, but they were not anticipating a big difference.