September target for new tax on vacant properties
A new tax on vacant properties is to be announced in September, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has signalled.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has been given a deadline of around six weeks to come up with workable penalties for property owners who refuse to bring their houses into use.
He is in consultation with the Attorney General about the contentious issue, which is proving legally difficult.
Government sources said such a tax would have a "double benefit" of being a revenue-raising measure for Budget 2018 and of motivating people to either sell unused houses or make them fit for renting.
Mr Varadkar confirmed he intends to be able to give a "detailed answer" on how a vacant home tax would work by the end of September at the latest.
The number of vacant houses and apartments has fallen by more than 30,000 over the past five years, but despite the major housing shortage, almost one in 10 remains empty.
Figures from Census 2016 show there are around 180,000 units, excluding holiday homes, vacant across the State.
As many as 90,000 are in urban areas, where demand for housing is particularly acute.
Among the proposals thought to be under consideration is applying a higher rate of property tax to vacant houses.
Sources said one of the biggest difficulties is proving that a property is empty year-round for tax purposes.
Mr Varadkar also noted there are significant hurdles to overcome in relation to property rights.
"We have to make sure that anything that we do around a vacant house tax, or vacant house levy, or something along those lines, doesn't get struck down by the courts on the basis that we're interfering with property rights," he said.
"But property rights in Ireland are not absolute. They are limited by the public interest. So we will be balancing property rights with the public interest."
Mr Murphy is undertaking a review of the Government's 'Rebuilding Ireland' programme, with the aim of finding further measures to boost supply. Today he will approve the construction of 70 rapid delivery houses in Dublin, including 39 three-bed units and 31 two-beds. The projects, based in Ballyfermot and Finglas, will cost €15.3m and should see the houses ready for use in early 2018.
"The overarching aim of Rebuilding Ireland is to ramp up delivery of housing to help individuals and families meet their housing needs," he said.
"Achieving the aim of accelerated delivery will contribute to the core objectives of addressing the unacceptable level of households, particularly families, in emergency accommodation."
He will also announce an allocation of €12m for the Disabled Persons Grant Scheme, which provides funding for extensions and adaptations to existing social housing stock such as grab rails, disabled access ramps and wet rooms.