Senator Mark Daly: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Hogan. This is a fairly specific issue in regard to councils issuing certificates of discharge and exemption so that people have certainty as to whether liability arises for non-principal private residences, in particular derelict properties. Local authorities will issue a certificate when a sale goes through. However, people might believe they are exempt but the council could take an alternate view. As the Minister is well aware, there are severe penalties for people who do not pay the non-principal private residence charge.
I know the charge is being removed but if one has not paid it over the past number of years, it adds up every month. If people sell properties in ten years time in the belief that they are exempt, there is no way for them to be certain unless they sell the property by which time it is far too late if the council is of the view that they are liable for the charge.
Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 broadened the revenue base of local authorities by introducing a charge on non-principal private residences. The charge was set at €200 and liability for it has fallen, in the main, on owners of rental, holiday and vacant properties. The charge has operated on a self-assessment basis and 2013 is the final year of operation of the charge. The 2009 Act places the charge under the care and management of the local authorities and application in particular circumstances is a matter for the relevant local authority. Interpretation of the legislation may be a matter for legal advice in individual cases and, ultimately, may be a matter to be decided by the courts.
Under the 2009 Act, as amended, “residential property” is defined as a “building that is situated in the State and that is occupied, or suitable for occupation, as a separate dwelling”. As such, a property which is not suitable for occupation does not fall within the definition of residential property and is not, therefore, liable for the charge. There are a number of indicators as to what makes a property suitable for occupation for the purposes of determining liability to the charge. The indicators include the structure of the property, whether it has a roof, whether it is so affected by dampness as to render it unsuitable for habitation and whether it has sanitary facilities, including a water closet and water supply.
It should be noted that certificates of exemption and certificates of discharge are issued solely in respect of residential properties, as defined by the Act. Therefore, a local authority is not in a position to issue a certificate of discharge in respect of a property which is derelict such that it is deemed to be uninhabitable on a given liability date for the charge.
If there is uncertainty as to the potential liability of a property to the charge, the owner is advised to contact the relevant local authority to determine liability. Naturally, if informed by an owner that an otherwise liable property has been uninhabitable, a local authority should require evidence demonstrating the condition of the property on the relevant liability dates for the charge. If a local authority is satisfied that a property was uninhabitable, it is open to that local authority to provide written confirmation to the property’s owner stating that no non-principal private residence charge liability is outstanding in connection with that property.
I trust that clarifies the situation. I do not know of the individual case to which Senator Daly is referring but he might want to enlist my support in having a look at it.
Senator Mark Daly: The Minister’s support would be more than welcome in the particular issue. I am sure he would be able to persuade the local authority in Kerry to issue the certificates. I understand there is no reason it cannot do so in advance of a sale. If someone looks for an exemption, the local authority should be able to issue a certificate regardless of whether the property is sold. Is that the Minister’s reading of the legislation?
Deputy Phil Hogan: Maybe the Senator will send me the details.
Senator Mark Daly: I thank the Minister.