The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (the Minister), has recently announced a number of initiatives which are underway to address the 189,000 vacant homes in Ireland ahead of the Vacant Homes Strategy which is due to be announced later this month.

This is in response to the rise in homelessness in Ireland and criticism of the Government for failure to adequately address the problem.

Summary of the key initiatives

The following is a brief outline of the key initiatives and their implications for property owners:

  • The establishment of a dedicated Empty-Homes Unit in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to manage actions at central and local government level and to assist local authorities
  • The appointment of vacant-homes officers by local authorities to examine the Census 2016 to help identify and prioritise “vacant hot-spot” areas where vacant homes can be re-used
  • The activation of a website to log vacant homes where people can anonymously alert authorities where they suspect that a home might be vacant
  • Encouraging more efficient maintenance and upgrading of properties by local authorities and faster turnaround of vacant social housing units
  • Prioritising the enactment of regulations to allow vacant commercial units and over-the-shop premises to be used as residences without the need to apply for planning permission
  • Engaging with the Department of Health to discuss alterations to the terms of the Fair Deal Nursing Home Support Scheme to encourage greater use of vacant properties belonging to people who are currently residing in nursing homes
  • Exploring options for an initiative on rural resettlement to increase use of existing housing units, particularly in rural areas with lower housing demand

The above measures are additional to those brought about by the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, which saw the introduction of the vacant site register at the beginning of this year. It is expected that a levy, which will impose a charge for vacant sites, will be introduced in 2018.

The implications of the proposed action

The Minister has indicated that penalties will be imposed on property owners who fail to bring their vacant housing into use. The Minister may also introduce incentives to property owners including funding for refurbishment or financial assistance to encourage owners to lease or sell properties to the local authorities or housing associations for social housing use.

A number of other initiatives have been postponed until Budget 2018 has been announced including a vacant homes tax and capital funding to aid local authorities to carry out major Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) campaigns.

Who will be affected?

The main properties which will be affected by these measures include rental and investment properties, unfinished development units and properties belonging to those in nursing home care. The proposed initiatives could have a significant effect on homeowners that have long term vacant properties including landlords, property developers and banks. There will also be increased pressure on local authorities and housing associations to minimise the time their housing stock is vacant between tenancies.

What next?

The Minister has warned that he will be moving quickly on measures to address vacant properties and property owners with second or vacant houses should be aware of the Minister’s plans. We await the announcement of the Vacant Home Strategy and the Budget 2018 to see the full extent of the Government’s proposals. Any proposed action must strike a suitable balance between the property rights of homeowners and the public interest in tackling the housing crisis.