Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti took a good step forward this week when he said that the government should address the issue of abandoned property. It is a small step, but certainly a step forward.
Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party – would prefer it if all vacant property is considered, and not just abandoned property. This would help reduce pressure on undeveloped land and, given that less than 70 per cent of existing dwellings are fully utilised, there is room for much improvement in this respect.
Let me start by spelling out the facts, as resulting from the 2011 Census, published in 2014.
In 2011, Malta and Gozo had 223,850 dwellings of which 68.2 per cent were occupied, 13.3 per cent were in use occasionally (seasonally or for a secondary use) and 18.4 per cent were completely vacant.
Table 1 clearly shows that Gozo has a concentration of seasonal accommodation, whilst the actual extent of the problem of vacant dwellings is 18.4 per cent of the housing stock. Another interesting fact shown in Table 1 is that less than 50 per cent of housing stock in Gozo is occupied all year round.
Table 1 : Properties in Malta: data extracted from Table 85 of the Census 2011 report
Additional data of interest made available by the 2011 census is that in Table 2 relative to the state of the unoccupied property, this being the total of the property which is either in occasional use or else completely vacant.
Table 2 : State of unoccupied property: data extracted from Table 140 of the Census 2011 report
A total of almost 7,000 dwelling units in shell form is substantial, even though most probably the great majority of these properties would be in shell form only for a short period of time. It would be a good step forward if Mepa were to establish a time frame within which properties under construction are to be completed.
In a number of cases, a validity period of five years is too long for a development permit. Permissible completion dates should vary and a system of fines would ensure that our towns and villages are not permanent building sites and would be most welcome by our local councils. This would reduce the presence of dust resulting from building construction material and would be of considerable help in reducing the contribution of building sites to air quality.
This leaves the properties requiring repairs totalling slightly fewer than 29,000. The abandoned properties referred to by Sandro Chetcuti would most probably be those in a state of dilapidation or requiring serious/extensive repairs totalling 7,000.
This is the essential information on the basis of which authorities need to take a decision. It is known that most of these cases are the result of either inheritance disputes or ownership by a multitude of owners whose share has an insignificant value. Fiscal incentives to encourage the consolidation of ownership rights where such properties are concerned are most probably the best way forward. This would address the problem of a number of such properties owned by a large number of co-owners who do not consider it worth the effort to do anything, as they would end up exposing themselves to substantial expenses without any practical benefits.
Reasonable action has to be taken to ensure that properties are not vacant as a result of administrative failures. Subsequently, we can consider the circumstances under which owners of vacant properties who leave such properties vacant for a long period of time should share the financial burden which the state has to shoulder to regulate and service new development. This financial burden is paid for through our taxes and it is only fair that these taxes should be shouldered by the owners of vacant properties.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2015