A lofty argument

Tel Aviv has begun cracking down on illegally converted lofts.

After years of ignoring the many illegal conversions of commercial and industrial buildings to loft apartments around the city, Tel Aviv recently began cracking down on the breaches, reports www.mynet.co.il. But Green Party head and deputy mayor Pe'er Visner, who himself owns such an apartment, says that because of the chronic housing shortage in the city, the converted apartments should be given legal permits and should be allowed to stay. According to the report, numerous old offices and factories around the city have been illegally converted to spacious, open-plan loft apartments over the years, and the city has done nothing to stop the phenomenon, even allowing the collection of property taxes based on residential rather than on commercial or industrial tariffs. But in recent months the city has begun taking legal action against the loft owners for building breaches, saying that allowing property taxes to be collected at residential rates rather than business rates did not mean that such apartments were authorized and did not prevent the city from taking legal action against the illegal use of a property. But the move has Visner's protests. He owns one such apartment on the third floor of a former office building on Rehov Hafetz Haim, and is running for a seat in the Knesset in next week's national elections. Visner called for existing converted apartments to be given legal permits and for clear criteria to be established to enable more buildings to be converted, saying that they were a "cheap and available" way to help solve the city's housing shortage. Visner said that criticism of his ownership of one such apartment was an attempt to blacken his name before the coming elections.