J'lem to launch Pessah campaign against ‘ghost apartments’

Municipality is encouraging foreigners who own vacation apartments to “turn the lights on” by renting their empty apartments to students, soldiers.

Jerusalem housing; David’s Village complex (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem housing; David’s Village complex
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Jerusalem municipality is encouraging foreigners who own vacation apartments in Jerusalem to “turn the lights on” by renting their empty apartments to students, soldiers and young people suffering from the severe housing shortage in the capital, during a soon-to-be-launched Pessah campaign.
“I know many foreign residents have apartments here, and they did this out of a deep commitment to the city,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Sunday. “We want to make sure that their lights stay lit throughout the year.”
There are between 6,000 and 10,000 “ghost apartments” in Jerusalem, which are only used a few times a year, usually during Pessah and Succot. According to political activist group Jerusalem Awakening, 10 percent of the city’s apartments are considered ghost apartments, though in the neighborhoods popular with foreigners, like Rehavia or the German Colony, this number reaches 30%.
The mayor argues that empty apartments negatively affect the neighborhood because their owners don’t support local businesses or enroll their children in school, while prices are inflated for those who do choose to live in the city.
Though the municipality has sent letters to these foreigners over the past two years, pleading with them to rent their apartments, their efforts have been largely unsuccessful.
In time for the Pessah campaign, the city has chosen seven private real estate companies to assist homeowners with the rental process. Contact information for those companies will appear on a letter sent to foreign residents.
“We’re glad they bought here and want them to continue owning property, but we ask them to rent when they’re not living in Israel,” Yoni Shapira, the founder and director of the Home4Trip.com company, said Monday. Home4Trip is partnering with Anglo-Saxon Real Estate, one of the companies chosen to assist foreigners.
The three-year-old Home4Trip helps foreigners who have apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem offer them for short-term vacation rentals. Through an online platform, an owner can see when his or her apartment is rented, or block off dates when he or she wants to use the property. The company currently oversees 100 apartments in Tel Aviv and 50 apartments in Jerusalem, and generally gets a 10% commission for organizing the rentals.
However, the municipality hopes foreigners will rent the properties for the longer term. This carries a new set of challenges, as it’s difficult to ask students to leave an apartment in the middle of their spring semester.
Shapira said his company would work with each owner individually to find a solution for when the owners visit, including putting the owners up in a hotel or finding an alternate apartment, or creating a contract with specific vacation times.
According to Shapira, if just 5% or 10% of foreigners decided to rent their apartments, it would be a huge success for the campaign, because every apartment rented is an apartment that was previously standing empty for most of the year.
“They aren’t even aware that there’s an urban problem [with empty apartments and apartment shortages],” said Shapira. “We need to tell them this is the problem Jerusalem is faced with, and here are two or three solutions.”