Derelict homes find new life and own­ers un­der seizure strat­egy

Dublin City Coun­cil is con­vert­ing derelict homes for social hous­ing while a Balls­bridge house that lay empty for years has been sold on in a win-win for the builder and the coun­cil

The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - Feature - Ro­nan McGreevy

In June last year, prop­erty de­vel­oper Stephen McCleane bought a house at auc­tion for just un­der ¤1 mil­lion with­out even see­ing the up­stairs area. The prop­erty at 30 Mer­lyn Road, Balls­bridge, had be­come an eye­sore fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the prop­erty mar­ket.

Its lo­ca­tion in the mid­dle of Dublin 4 be­lied its de­crepit state. The stairs had been re­moved by the pre­vi­ous builder, who had to aban­don mid-job hav­ing run out of money to com­plete it.

When McCleane got ac­cess to the up­stairs area af­ter he bought the prop­erty, he was shocked: “It was like buying a pig in a poke. The roof cov­er­ing on the dormer bed­room was not suit­able for the pitch of the house and there was water com­ing through. We knew it was go­ing to be in a fairly bad state. It was very shock­ing when we did get up there.”

The orig­i­nal de­vel­oper had bought the house at auc­tion for about ¤1.5 mil­lion in spring 2008 with a view to re­fur­bish­ing it and sell­ing it on at a healthy profit. But then the roof fell in on the Ir­ish econ­omy and the Mer­lyn Road prop­erty was a ca­su­alty.

The prop­erty was left with wires hang­ing from the wall and water pour­ing through the ceil­ings. There was no kitchen, bath­room or stair­case. Weeds grew unchecked to a great height in the gar­den.

The prop­erty came to the at­ten­tion of Dublin City Coun­cil in 2010. It was listed on the derelict sites reg­is­ter in April 2011, but noth­ing was done about it un­til Fe­bru­ary last year.

All lo­cal author­i­ties are un­der pres­sure to deal with the hous­ing cri­sis – none more so than Dublin City Coun­cil, which has the most acute short­ages. The coun­cil placed a com­pul­sory pur­chase or­der (CPO) on the prop­erty and put a no­tice in the news­pa­pers. De­spite its pres­ti­gious ad­dress, no­body came for­ward to claim the prop­erty within the al­lot­ted 30-day no­tice pe­riod.

The prop­erty was then sold at auc­tion in June 2017 by Lis­ney es­tate agents for ¤980,000. And so Dublin City Coun­cil ac­quired a house worth al­most ¤1 mil­lion for noth­ing.

‘Happy re­sult’

It tran­spired that the house was owned by the Promon­to­ria fund (which had taken on the debt at­tached to the house) and it has since come for­ward to claim com­pen­sa­tion for the prop­erty.

It will re­ceive the pro­ceeds of the sale, less a derelict sites levy. The levy means a net gain for the coun­cil of more than ¤100,000. “It’s a very happy re­sult for ev­ery­one and for the neigh­bours who are very pleased about the out­come,” says David Gar­vey, chief val­uer in Dublin City Coun­cil.

Over 2016 and 2017 the coun­cil vested (ac­quired) 11 prop­er­ties by com­pul­sory pur­chase and 10 of them have since been con­verted to social hous­ing, ex­cept Mer­lyn Road. The coun­cil took the de­ci­sion there that given its lo­ca­tion and size it would be better on the open mar­ket.

Of the other houses, two are in Fin­glas, two in Rialto and one each in Crum­lin, Beau­mont, Phib­s­bor­ough, Fin­glas, Rut­land Street and Creighton Street in the city cen­tre.

In the com­ing weeks the coun­cil in­tends to take eight fur­ther aban­doned prop­er­ties into its pos­ses­sion once there are no ob­jec­tions from their own­ers. “We are putting a lot of staff re­sources into this whole area. It is likely to grow into hun­dreds of prop­er­ties down the line,” Gar­vey says.

Louth County Coun­cil has pur­sued a sim­i­lar strat­egy in re­cent times and taken 70 prop­er­ties into its pos­ses­sion. Its ef­forts have been praised by both the Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar and the Min­is­ter for Hous­ing Eoghan Mur­phy.

Gar­vey con­cedes the num­ber of prop­er­ties seized in Dublin is re­mains small so far, but he be­lieves the coun­cil’s ac­tiv­i­ties are hav­ing a positive knock-on im­pact.

“One of the happy re­sults of our in­ter­ven­tion­ist ap­proach has been that peo­ple are do­ing good work to prop­er­ties to take them out of the reach of the Derelict Sites Act. This is act­ing as an in­cen­tive for peo­ple to move for­ward,” he says. The Coun­cil generally finds that about half of the own­ers of

‘‘ One of the happy re­sults of our in­ter­ven­tion­ist ap­proach has been that peo­ple are do­ing good work to prop­er­ties to take them out of the reach of the Derelict Sites Act

derelict prop­er­ties they tar­get will come for­ward to claim the prop­erty and will en­gage in re­me­dial works them­selves to take the prop­erty back from dere­lic­tion.

He also be­lieves the vacant sites levy in­tro­duced un­der the Ur­ban Re­gen­er­a­tion and Hous­ing Act 2015 will gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant funds for the coun­cil and also en­cour­age more own­ers to bring vacant sites back into use or sell them.

Gar­vey es­ti­mates that the coun­cil could earn up to ¤7 mil­lion per an­num from the levy, which starts at 3 per cent of the val­u­a­tion of the site for the first year, ris­ing to 6 per cent in sub­se­quent years.

The com­pletely re­fur­bished num­ber 30 Mer­lyn Road was placed on the mar­ket in spring of this year by Lis­ney and last week went sale agreed on the ask­ing price of ¤1.495 mil­lion.

Lis­ney di­rec­tor David Bew­ley, who han­dled the auc­tion of the prop­erty last year, said the transformation has been “in­cred­i­ble” given the state it had been in.

“What is ter­ri­ble is the in­ter­ven­ing eight years when it lay idle and ir­ri­tated the neigh­bours,” Bew­ley says.

“This is a good place for the coun­cil to start ac­quir­ing prop­er­ties. Within rea­son, it should be hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where. They should be proac­tive in seiz­ing these prop­er­ties. They are the only ones who can do it.”

Above: 30 Mer­lyn Road in Dublin 4 be­fore and af­ter; Left and right: Prop­er­ties in Beau­mont and Crum­lin that were seized by Dublin City Coun­cil by com­pul­sory pur­chase or­der and re­fur­bished for use as social hous­ing

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