At Kirwan Street Cottages in Stoneybatter, numbers 2 and 4 have been empty for many years, the neighbours say.
They were listed for sale in a lot alongside seven other nearby properties, the Irish Times reported in December 2016. But those two didn’t sell.
In November 2018, neighbours of the two vacant homes wrote to Dublin City Council, detailing how the homes were derelict and supporting its plan to compulsorily purchase them.
In May 2019, a council report said it intended to do that, and it had already issued a notice of intention. The owners had objected though, the report says.
And, the report also notes: “Works to render the sites non-derelict have commenced and are ongoing and being monitored.”
Subsequent reports don’t mention what happened, but neighbours say the compulsory purchase order (CPO) process never went ahead.
A council spokesperson said Friday that the properties were removed from the derelict sites register on 6 August 2021.
It can be legally complex for the council to CPO a property, and if the owner objects and a court battle ensues, it can take years.
From the back, the houses look run-down, with overgrown vegetation creeping into a neighbouring property, 3 Kirwan Street, which is sandwiched in between the two vacant homes, photos show. There is a hole in the roof of one of the houses.
Stuart Smith, who lives around the corner on Kirwan Street, says: “It’s a lovely street and community and we want it as full and vibrant as possible. With the housing crisis as it is, it seems insane that the council allows this.”
P.J. Doyle from Wexford, who was well known for running dance halls and nightclubs in the 1980s, owns the two houses. His nephew Ian, who didn’t give his surname, says Doyle isn’t well, but that the family intends to do something with the houses as soon as possible.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries about whether the houses are being considered again for entry to the derelict sites register.
Carrot but few sticks
Kirwan Street has won awards for being the prettiest street in Stoneybatter, says Smith. “People really do take pride in the appearance of the area.”
Worse, people are crying out for somewhere to live. “It’s such a shame,” he says. “There are people that would bite off their arm to live on this street.”
Last year, the Minister for Housing, Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien, joined Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick and Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam outside the vacant houses at Kirwan Street Cottages to promote new grants available to renovate vacant homes.
There are lots of carrot-style approaches to tackling vacancy, but there isn’t a straightforward process to force owners to sell on rundown homes if they don’t plan to refurbish them.
“I think at this point this has gone on for so long that the council should CPO them,” said Fitzpatrick last week, although she agrees that is a drawn-out and cumbersome process.
If the owner challenges the CPO, and the council still wants to proceed, it has to first go to An Bord Pleanála and then possibly go to court. Dublin City Council is currently trying to CPO other buildings, says Fitzpatrick. “They are dragging through the courts at a glacial pace.”
But “it is possible to get things CPO-ed”, she says. She pointed out that the council has bought 19 and 21 Connaught Street in Phibsboro, two long-term derelict properties, against the wishes of the owner.
Leaving urban houses empty long-term isn’t right, says Fitzpatrick, but it is difficult to introduce legislation to prevent it. “I think it’s vandalism,” she says. “But we operate within the constitution.”
“We have rights to private property in the constitution and if someone owns something, it’s their private property and they have an entitlement to that,” she says.
She hopes the new vacant homes tax should spur some owners to bring their properties back into use, she said.
The vacant homes tax is currently three times the local property tax. It will be less for a derelict property than one that is fit for habitation because the tax is dependent on the value of the property.
The tax will go up to five times the local property tax, Finance Minister Michael McGrath said in his 10 October budget statement. “The increase will take effect from the next chargeable period, commencing this November.”
The government’s housing strategy, Housing for All, says that it aims to “use CPOs to target up to 2,500 vacant properties for onward sale” by 2026.
In April 2023, the government announced targets for each of the councils, as part of its CPO activation programme, according to the Department of Housing website.
“This Programme includes guidance and supports for local authorities to actively use their legislative powers to acquire vacant and derelict properties, where engagement with owners has been unsuccessful,” it says.
Dublin City Council’s target is to start the process of buying four vacant or derelict homes in 2023, and to bring 150 new homes into its programme – meaning it should kick off the process for them of contacting owners to make them aware of the supports available for bringing them back into use.
Dublin City Council’s target for CPOs is one of the lowest of all the local authorities in the country, well behind Limerick City and County Council which is supposed to start 60 CPOs in 2023, and put 200 into its programme.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that Dublin has one of the lowest vacancy rates in Ireland, with just 1 percent of housing stock vacant.
“Local authorities can compulsorily acquire a vacant or derelict property using either the compulsory purchase powers contained within the Housing Act, 1966 and complimentary Planning and Local Government legislation, or using the Derelict Sites Act, 1990,” they said.
Smith says he hopes that the council will consider the homes for CPO again, and try to get them back into use. The other vacant homes on Kirwan Street that were sold in 2016 are all being lived in, he says.
“They were done up to a really high standard and they’ve got people living in them now, obviously, which has really changed the street,” he says.