Sunday 18 August 2019

Government helping vulture funds push citizens out of homes - UN

Stock photo
Stock photo

Charlie Weston and Donal O'Donovan

The United Nations has condemned Ireland for allowing multinational vulture funds to buy up vast swathes of properties and then rent them out at sky-high costs.

The international body hit out at what it called the "egregious" business practices of the giant private equity and investment firms.

It said they were scooping up low-income and affordable homes, upgrading them, and substantially raising rents - forcing tenants out of their own homes.

In the past 12 months alone, hundreds of new apartments distributed across several schemes have been acquired by institutional investors here with a view to offering them to the rental market.

Massive US-backed fund Blackstone has bought and sold rental properties here, including the Elysian tower in Cork.

Canada-backed Ires Reit is the biggest landlord in Ireland, with more than 3,000 houses and apartments.

Los Angeles-based Kennedy Wilson is already a big landlord which recently said it has billions of euro to buy more rental properties. US fund Starwood has put together a consortium to spend €1bn on rental properties.

In the larger cities, the rental market has already been transformed by the presence of cash-rich funds buying up entire apartment blocks and housing estates.

Some of these enjoy extraordinarily low tax bills on rental incomes.

UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Leilani Farha wrote to the Government in Ireland and five other countries.

She accused them of facilitating the "financialisation of housing" in their own countries through preferential tax laws and weak tenant protections among other measures.

Ms Farha also wrote to the governments in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Sweden and the US.

"Almost overnight multinational private equity and asset management firms like Blackstone have become the biggest landlords in the world, purchasing thousands and thousands of units in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America," the UN said.

"They have changed the global housing landscape. Pouring unprecedented amounts of capital into housing, they have converted homes into financial instruments and investments."

The UN said properties often deemed "undervalued" - which generally means affordable to those living there - are being purchased en masse, renovated and then offered at a higher rental rate, pricing tenants out of their own homes and communities.

"Landlords have become faceless corporations wreaking havoc with tenants' right to security and contributing to the global housing crisis," the UN said in a statement.

The UN said it has heard countless stories of tenants whose buildings had been bought by private equity firms and whose rents had sky-rocketed, sometimes by 30pc and 50pc - making it impossible for them to remain.

"What makes this practice particularly egregious is that it is being done without any monitoring or accountability mechanisms in place."

The UN said governments have not made the connection that this new form of finance is taking place in an area which is governed by international human rights law, which imposes obligations on them.

Blackstone disputed the claims. It said the UN report contains "numerous false claims, significant factual errors and inaccurate conclusions".

Irish Independent

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