Municipal tax to double on empty properties

Trajtenberg Committee recommendations seek to encourage development of abandoned properties.

An abandoned structure in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
An abandoned structure in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Landlords who own empty buildings or apartments may soon find their property tax (arnona) doubled, after the cabinet unanimously approved the fourth chapter of the Trajtenberg Report on Sunday.
The Hitorerut Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Awakening) advocacy group has been working for two years to change the policy for abandoned properties, which currently do not pay any property taxes.
“It’s negative for everyone, and we’re hoping to do something positive with this,” said Neta Ben-Ezra, an activist with Jerusalem Awakening.
“The fact that they get an exemption means they really have no incentive [to develop the property].”
According to the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee on Socioeconomic Change, empty properties across the country will be exempt from property taxes for six months, for issues such as renovations or construction.
After the six months, municipalities will begin to charge double the normal property taxes.
Buildings that are considered unfit for habitation will have nine months of exemption before the municipalities begin to charge the doubled tax rate. Activists hope that the Knesset approves the Trajtenberg recommendations in time for the 2013 tax year.
Ben-Ezra said that while the doubled fee may not be an issue for wealthy real estate owners, it will nudge others to find a solution to inheritance squabbles that stretch on for years because it costs nothing in taxes to leave a building empty. “The moment they don’t pay anything, they can argue till forever,” she said.
Over the past six months, homeless activists in Jerusalem have broken into a number of abandoned buildings and tried to squat there with their families, in an effort to draw attention to the large number of abandoned properties in the capital.
But part of the problem in enforcing the Trajtenberg recommendations is that most municipalities do not know which properties are abandoned.
While the records list buildings that do not pay property tax, buildings belong to the central government, municipalities and nonprofits are all listed in the same category as abandoned structures.
Jerusalem Awakening received a list of hundreds of properties that may be abandoned and has methodically gone through the list, identifying at least 60 buildings or apartments that may be abandoned in the center of the city alone. Ben-Ezra faulted the municipality for not taking a more active approach, such as creating a special team to inspect abandoned properties, which could net the city increased revenues.
The activist group, which hopes the buildings will be redeveloped into affordable housing for young people, is appealing to the public to help in its search by sending in photographs and addresses of abandoned properties.
“We’re not going to let this deteriorate further, they’re like black holes in the streets,” Ben-Ezra said.