One phenomenon relatively unique to Israel is the “empty apartment,” or as the Israelis call it, the “ghost apartment.” This is a property that stands empty for most of the year, used by its owners only on Jewish holidays, during the holiday season or occasional vacations. There are a large number of these properties in the country, and even complete residential complexes, that are totally uninhabited during the offseason.

The advantages to owners of not renting out their apartments when not in use include absolute flexibility in setting dates for personal visits and the comfort of knowing that your vacation home will be as you left it when you return. The flip side is that these homes continue to be liable for municipal taxes, building maintenance and various other expenses that are normally covered by the tenant if the apartment were to be rented out.

From the point of view of the government and the municipality, these apartments provide another potential source of rental housing in a country where the demand for rentals exceeds supply. To encourage owners to enter the rental market, a number of new laws have been proposed, the major one being that apartments that stand empty for the majority of the year will be subject to increased municipal taxes. This will make leaving an apartment empty an expensive exercise.

One solution to the above problems is to use the property for short-term rentals. There are a number of companies that specialize in finding good, shortterm tenants who not only will cover more than the various expenses related to the apartment but also have been checked out by the company and will look after the property and its contents. Add to this the fact that the rental company will manage and take care of the apartment and prepare it for the owner’s personal visits, and this becomes a viable win-win solution for all.

Another similar solution available to those who know exactly when they will be personally using their apartments is to rent the property long-term to a reliable tenant who will vacate when the owner needs to use it. Many singles or young couples spend the holidays with family anyway, and most are only too happy to make the apartment available to the owner in exchange for a slightly reduced rent.

Despite this, there will still be many owners who feel that the costs justify the benefits of not renting out their apartments, and so the “ghosts” will be here for some time to come.

rdbloch@netvision.net.il Raphi Bloch is manager of the Re/Max Vision real-estate agency in Jerusalem. He previously worked for the Finance Ministry.

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