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Irish Politics

Sinn Féin’s housing policy effectively serves notice to quit on private landlords

Clarity is beginning to emerge about what Sinn Féin wants to do even if there is little transparency about who really runs the party.

The party has focused on housing policy, we are told. But the small print on its plans is only becoming decipherable now.

If they get into power after the next election they intend to give all tenants who have been in a residential tenancy for more than six months the right to remain permanently in possession and to end the right of landlords to recover possession except in the case of a proposed redevelopment of the property, for which planning permission has been granted.

In particular, Sinn Féin propose to prohibit any landlord from terminating a residential tenancy for the purpose of allowing his or her family member to occupy the dwelling.

Moreover, if a landlord wants to realise the value of a dwelling, they will be obliged to sell it only to a purchaser who inherits the tenant or tenants who live there at the time of sale. Ending a tenancy with a view to selling the property with vacant possession will be prohibited.

This means that if you own a property which is let as a dwelling for more than six months, it will not be possible to recover possession to, say, permit a child or other family member to live there either while a student or permanently.

If you buy, inherit, or come into possession of a house or apartment where two households merge, say, on marriage, and let it for more than six months to a tenant, Sinn Féin will give your tenant, and your tenant’s family, the right to remain there permanently as tenants.

A rational owner of a home would have to explore any other option rather than return to the position of landlords under the 1946 Rent Restrictions Acts which slowly expropriated landlords by denying them fair market rents and any right to ever recover possession.

In these circumstances, there is no reason to doubt the intention of single and small landlords of domestic property to sell up and leave the rental market in droves. By clearly stating their intentions, Sinn Féin have in effect served notice to quit on private landlords as far as the private rental market is concerned.

The party proposes a referendum to insert into the Constitution a right to housing for all. Quite what that means is not clear. Presumably it will apply to all adults, whether citizens or not.

If (as I assume) their proposed amendment does not create a personal right for such adults to apply to the courts for orders directing the State or local authorities to provide them with homes, it may just provide that the courts can make declaratory orders of a general nature where the State or local authorities are failing to comply with their obligations under the existing Housing Acts.

As I pointed out here recently, there is nothing in the Constitution which prevents the State from acquiring land needed for housing (social, affordable and/or privately owned) whether it is greenfield or brownfield or already built.

Any compulsory purchase of property (CPO) carries with it a potential liability for capital gains tax (currently 33 per cent) on any gain realised. And there is nothing in the Constitution which prevents “carrot and stick” taxes and levies on undeveloped zoned lands or underused or derelict property in urban areas aimed at mobilising such resources in the interests of the common good.

Sinn Féin also promises the abolition of local property taxes (LPT). Instead of reforming LPT to make it fairer as between owners of very modest houses and apartments in cities as compared with owners of mansions and large homes in the countryside, Sinn Féin proposes that Ireland should become the only country in the EU to end all homeowners’ or renting occupiers’ liability to pay towards the cost of local government.

We had all of these counterproductive property policy disasters before — in the form of the Rent Restrictions Acts and the disastrous 1977 Fianna Fáil election manifesto’s total abolition of local government rates.

Unlike some commentators, I do not assume that the next government will be a coalition dominated by Sinn Féin. Nor do I believe that we are condemned to the alternative of re-electing the current hapless coalition.

But there are plenty of others out there who have failed to consider the proposition that Sinn Féin’s policies will worsen rather than cure our housing crisis.




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