Saturday 16 November 2019

Mystery owners of derelict eyesores 'vanish off the radar', says council

Financial institutions also accused of holding up redevelopment of sites badly needed for housing

allison bray

Hundreds of crumbling eyesores around the capital that could be transformed into much-needed housing are set to remain in limbo for years to come because the authorities cannot track down their owners, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Dublin City Council admits it is struggling to trace the legal owners of derelict sites in the capital badly required for development as the demand for housing units reaches crisis levels.

In some cases, the property owners passed away without leaving a will.

But others simply walked away from the dilapidated properties without leaving a forwarding address and cannot be traced.

These and myriad other complex hurdles are holding up the redevelopment of 46 properties worth €15m that are currently listed on Dublin City Council's Derelict Sites Register.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg of some 630 run-down sites that the council is investigating in the city, which may end up on the register.

Marie Igoe, senior executive officer for Dublin City Council's planning department, said there is a "constant flow of properties" that are lying vacant and in dire need of repair. She said "every effort" is made to trace the owners, but added that some have simply "vanished off the radar".

Ms Igoe told the Sunday Independent: "If there's engagement with the owners, we don't put them on the [register] list. But there are sometimes very human reasons why they are on the list. Maybe someone has died or they don't have to capacity [to sell the property]."

She added: "It is not in anybody's interest to let them stay in that state."

Two rundown properties at 142-144 Harold's Cross in leafy Dublin 6 were put on the derelict register after the State tried unsuccessfully for more than 30 years to trace the owner's next of kin or rightful heir to the properties.

The houses, which were valued at over €500,000 in 2007, were eventually put into State ownership and are now on the market.

There are other complex reasons for the plethora of derelict sites in the capital. Some are the subject of disputes over ownership, others have been put into receivership or liquidation or are under the control of the State's 'bad bank'. Nama.

In a number of cases, however, banks are deliberately sitting on the properties in the hope that their market value will rise as the economy improves.

One Georgian townhouse at 37 Harcourt Street, a much wanted real estate address just yards from St Stephen's Green, has been sitting idle for years, despite its sought-after location. James Knight, director of Knight Frank estate agents who is listed as receiver for the property, which is valued at €580,000, says he is confident of a sale as the market improves, but admits: "These are properties sitting idle for generations. It's incredible the diverse reasons why."

Another derelict property next door at 36 Harcourt Street is also in receivership after a bank foreclosed on its previous owner.

Solicitor John Walsh, who represents the former owner, said the property, and many others, are lying idle as banks "sit on it" in the expectation that values will rise.

He told the Sunday Independent: "I have no doubt there's a similar situation with a lot of properties lying in limbo until the banks decide what to do with them."

Labour councillor Andrew Montague, who is the chair of Dublin City Council's planning committee, admits current measures such as the 3pc levy that can be imposed on the market value of derelict properties, does not give the authorities enough clout to force owners to clean up or dispose of the sites.

He is calling on the council to be given greater power to buy the properties through compulsory purchase orders to make room for badly needed housing developments.

Mr Montague told the Sunday Independent: "I know legal issues are a huge part of the problem and usually they [the city's planning department] will just leave it. But I'd like them to be more pro-active.

"The whole area is being affected because of these disputes. If they just ignore it for years I think it would be a strong case for compulsory purchase orders. If no one claims ownership, it should be straightforward for the council to buy."

Sunday Independent

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