Home economics: answering your property questions
Advice from our property expert on what your can do when the neighbours of your semi-detached house appear to have abandoned it and your options if you wish to change the way you pay your local property tax.
Question: We live in a semi-detached house in Laois. Our neighbours have disappeared from the house/neighbourhood but we still see them occasionally in the area. We guess that they have abandoned the house and we are worried about pipes freezing and future damage to our property coming into the winter. I have tried to contact them many times. What should we do? Can we contact a bank to establish what is happening?
Sinead replies: I can see how this is a concern for you. If the property is vacant, not let and the owners have left, there are two possibilities.
Firstly, that the house is fine, they are checking on it, and have left utilities on, in which case there is nothing for you to do. You don't really know why they are not there and it doesn't necessarily mean the property is abandoned. The second possibility is that is has been left and in this case it may likely mean they are in arrears, or have simply upped sticks. You can be sure their bank is already aware if this is the position and will be chasing them in any event. No bank will take an instruction from a neighbour on a property they have on their books, as this would breach confidentiality. Do you even know which bank it is mortgaged with?
I don't think you should overly worry. By all means, pop a letter through their letterbox (they are probably collecting post occasionally if you have seen them around), and mention your concerns. Offer perhaps to be a key holder for them while they are absent and they may be grateful for this.
Other than that, do obviously keep an eye on your pipes and contact Irish Water if there is a problem, but it really is their own business and you don't have a legal remedy unless an event actually occurs which impacts on you.
Question: This year I paid my local property tax on a once-off basis, I think in April. However, I can't afford that next year and would prefer to pay by monthly direct debit. Do I have to tell Revenue or the council and is it at the same amount as 2015?
Sinead replies: To answer the second part first, yes, the amount you paid for 2015 will be the same for 2016 and indeed, right up to 2019, according to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan who is freezing the charge until then. The second query is about how to pay and you will have to let Revenue, the collection body, know of your decision.
The deadline to do this was last Wednesday but I daresay if you call the LPT helpline (1890 200 255) immediately, they may be able to assist you. The first direct debit won't be deducted until January 15, 2016.
Alternatively, you can phase the payments through your wages if you contact your HR department or visit the www.revenue.ie website and click the LPT button. You won't pay any additional charges for either of these methods and the payments are taken evenly over the year.
The third option is to make regular cash payments yourself through An Post, or Payzone/Paypoint outlets, although again, you need to advise Revenue that you wish to do this.
The Ryan review
After a recent piece broadly welcoming the move by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly's decision to introduce a rent freeze for two years, giving certainty to sitting tenants, I received a slew of correspondence from landlords who have been distressed by the measure.
All of these landlords, it has to be said, were of the 'amateur' or accidental variety, but given than 70pc of rental accommodation in Ireland is owned by individuals rather than the large REITs or corporate letting agents common in Europe, of course they will feel the impact more than most.
This is not in any way disparaging of them. Very many landlords were and are reluctant, and many are tenants themselves having been forced by circumstance.
Others were guided by Government policy pre-2008 which positively tagged them as losers if they didn't buy up the house next door as a buy to let (BTL).
So, of course, one feels desperately sorry for those who now have no option but to crystallise their losses and put the BTL back on the market. However, I still contend the 'big picture' consequence is positive.
It is entirely within the remit of Government to shape policy to encourage housing supply - they have failed utterly so far. This is a baby step and no more. And if it did meddle further, it would be, rightly, slammed for it.
But even forcing landlords to sell up can be sold as a win-win for Government from a supply point of view, which leaves some individuals in the lurch as greater society benefits.