The menace of unoccupied houses

The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) recently declared that it has concluded plans to start the collection of taxes on unoccupied buildings in the territory. It disclosed that about 600 unoccupied buildings have been identified in the highbrow districts of Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Apo, and Gwarimpa Estate. Mr Dele Yaro, the Leader of the FCT Ministerial Joint Task Force on Sanitation and Demolition of illegal structures, said this in a recent interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.

Yaro, an Assistant Director of Operations in the Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS), gave the hint after the demolition of illegal buildings and workshops in Kado Estate by the Task Force. According to him, owners of buildings that are not occupied will henceforth be made to pay taxes on such property to generate more money for the government. This is to ensure that no property lies fallow without paying taxes.

Speaking further, Yaro said there are some buildings within the city that are not occupied by anybody. “So, if your property is lying fallow, definitely you know you must pay tax on it. If the costs of renting or acquiring these buildings are too high and the owners are made to pay taxes on them every year, they will be forced to bring it down so that people can occupy them”, he said. Meanwhile, the FCTA has reportedly blamed an estimated 1.7 million housing deficit in Abuja largely, on an increase in the number of unoccupied buildings in the nation’s capital city.

In another separate move, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, recently disclosed that the federal government is planning to rent out unoccupied private and government houses located in various towns and cities across the country. He revealed this in Abuja while playing host to the Senate Committee on Housing led by its Chairman, Sam Egwu.

Providing additional information as directed by the minister, the Director, Public Private Partnership, Eucharia Alozie, stated that some young Nigerians have deployed technology to determine the number of empty houses in many parts of Nigeria. She stated that the ministry had collated information on empty houses built by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH). She also said since a lot of people do not have the money to pay two years rent, the team will work with agencies of government to deduct the monthly rent payment; adding that the initiative has gained acceptance in Abuja, Lagos and Cross River states.

However, Fashola told his guests that the initiative was not compulsory. He disclosed that the team of young people are working with some financial institutions that have collected houses from defaulting customers and the houses are seen as dead capital, as they are not bringing in income and nobody wants to buy them. The minister explained that some of the houses are three-bedroom homes but the young people who need houses do not have funds to rent a whole three-bedroom. “So, we will bring them together and rent each of the rooms and the rents are collected monthly,” he stated.

The initiative of the FMWH consists of issues that are not very clear. For example, the terms of agreement or engagement to be entered into by owners of unoccupied houses, their agents and prospective tenants have not been lucidly outlined. The role of the financial institution to be engaged is also not explicit. Furthermore, some of the unoccupied houses may include those taken over by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), commercial banks, and the Asset Management Commission of Nigeria (AMCON), which may yet be under litigation.

Given the unclear issues that characterise the FMWH initiative, the FCTA measure is comparatively preferred in the search for a solution for addressing the country’s housing deficit. We support the FCTA approach, which sounds more realistic and effective. Owners of unoccupied houses would rather prefer to get the houses occupied than pay taxes on them. Besides, payment of taxes by non-compliant owners of unoccupied houses would be a source of income for government.

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