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Housing minister: 'I'll be frank, we've got to revisit the tax treatment for small landlords'

In an interview with The Journal, the housing minister said tax measures is one way to keep landlords in the market.

THE TAX TREATMENT of small landlords has to be revisited, according to Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien. 

Speaking to The Journal after being reappointed in his role, O’Brien said that while the budget did make some changes for landlords in terms of expenses and energy retrofits, more needs to be done to keep them in the market. 

Ahead of the budget in September, it was flagged that if a rent credit was to be introduced for tenants then landlords would also in turn have to see a benefit. It was reported widely in the lead up to the 27 September Budget that tax breaks for landlords were under consideration. 

However, after the Budget announcement - which included a tax credit worth up to €500 per calendar year for renters - there was criticism among landlord groups that enough wasn’t being done to keep smaller operators in the sector. 

“I do think we need to do more for individual landlords who are staying in the market, I’ll be frank, we’ve got to go back and have a look at the tax treatment,” he said.

“I think it’s something that government will discuss further.”

The minister said he would not be prescriptive about what the government should do, but O’Brien said “one of the easier ways to do that is via tax measures”. 

When asked about whether he was getting pushback from his Fine Gael and Green Party colleagues over the proposed measures, the Fianna Fáil TD said that in the current coalition “you’ve got to get agreement between the three parties”.

While individual renters will get up to €500 as a tax credit next year thanks to measures introduced in the Budget, as with other tax credits it will be set against other liabilities and credits, so a person may not necessarily get a cheque in the post for €500.

Married couples and civil partners will be able to claim together for double that amount.

Speaking about that Budge measures O’Brien said: “I’ve had to push for that hard, that’s a real significant assistance, putting money in people’s pockets”.

New finance minister 

While Paschal Donohoe previously dealt with all things taxation for this government, the finance ministry has now rotated to O’Brien’s own party colleague Michael McGrath, with some speculating that it might make it easier on the housing minister to get some Fianna Fáil ideas over the line. 

“I do think we need to do something for individual landlords who have stayed in the market because we can’t have a situation where for the last six years we’ve had the individual landlords leave the market. That is a concern for me to have to deal with,” said O’Brien.

Oftentimes landlords can be portrayed in a bad light, said the minister before adding that he often reminds people that there are lots of good landlords out there.

“98% of tenancies never come into dispute,” he said – adding that landlords generally have a good relationship with their tenants. 

When asked about the case of Jeanette Brown – a 33-year-old landlord who told The Irish Times recently that she is unable to move back into her apartment due to the winter eviction ban, the minister said he has come across a number of other similar cases. 

 ”I have had a couple of people in that situation make contact with me too, I fully appreciate that’s a very difficult thing for them. We’ve been very clear about how long this winter eviction ban will last for, to the end of March next year,” he said. 

He said the government had to take the “exceptional step”  because of the cost of living crisis.

“I’ve have a lot of sympathy for the 10,500 people or just short homeless in this country. They are a priority for me and for this government,” he replied.

“We do have to throw everything at it to try to improve the situation including increasing supply,” said the minister. 

The latest official count of homeless people in Ireland, from O’Brien’s department, reached a new record of 11,397 for October.

The figure only counts people using emergency facilities and does not factor in homeless people with no form of accommodation. It also does not include asylum seekers or refugees from Ukraine.

Looking ahead, O’Brien said the pressure will be on local authorities next year.

“I want them to build more homes,” he said, adding it will be his “big focus” for 2023.

Earlier this month, the government was roundly criticised for standing over a €700 million capital underspend in its housing budget.

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett also told the Dáil that four of Dublin’s local authorities failed to built any new council houses in the first six months of the year. 

O’Brien said this year 10,500 new social homes will be delivered, adding that housing bodies have done particularly well over the last 12 months.

“Some local authorities have done very well, others require more support to get them up to the level that I want them at,” he said, stating that he holds regular housing summits with council chief executives across the country, and will continue to do so.

In recent weeks, the government approved expenditure of up to €100 million from within his existing departmental budget to pay down local authority loans on sites which can deliver accelerated social housing projects.

Local authorities are currently carrying around €309 million of land legacy debt, which are loans for land they bought in the past for development.

Local authorities who can demonstrate they will begin building next year or in 2024, and that can use modern methods of construction, such as rapid build, will be assisted though this new initiative.

“We have provided like 350 additional staff for housing staff right across the country in local authorities. We need them to be hitting their targets. 2023 is going to be a very big year for them. It has to be a strong year for delivery for local authorities,” said O’Brien.

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