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Impose Taxes On Vacant Houses, UN Tells FG

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To curb corruption, money laundering and raise more funds to build houses for ordinary Nigeria’s, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Rights to Adequate Housing, Ms Leilani Farha, has urged federal government to impose taxes on unoccupied or vacant homes across the country.

The UN charged the Nigerian government to develop appropriate strategies to deal with the situation because most of the unoccupied houses or estates were proceeds of money laundering and other illicit funds.

Farha, who addressed a press conference in Abuja yesterday on her preliminary findings after a 10-day fact-finding mission to Nigeria, said that one of the strategies should include imposing tax on vacant homes that would then be used to generate affordable housing for poor Nigerians.

She said that Nigeria must act fast to address the grossly inadequate housing as well as forced eviction. She further recommended the expropriation of vacant houses for public purposes to address urgent housing needs.

The UN official asserted that Nigeria has an urgent human right crisis as regards adequate housing, stressing that there are now an estimated 22 million housing units in deficit.

She said that “it is well established that in Nigeria as in many other countries, real estates are used as convenient places to launder corrupt money, to park excess capital and as a means of financial security for the wealthy.”

Farha, therefore, recommended the establishment of a national commission to investigate gross human rights violation in the context of forced evictions and to provide basic services to all informal settlements, and increase the number of shelters of persons in situation of vulnerability

“Nigeria’s housing sector is in a complete crisis. There is no current national housing action plan or strategy. Private market housing is unaffordable for most, rental housing is scarce, requires tenants to have one to two years’ rent in advance and there is no rent controls or caps,” she lamented.

Farha said that from her visits, Nigeria may have slums with most severe conditions anywhere in the world, adding that most of the slums lack access to basic needs such as water and roads.

The UN official expressed concern about the urgent human rights crisis presented by what she described as inhumane living conditions in Nigeria’s informal settlements, which house 69 per cent of the urban population.

She asserted that the government does not use to maximum available resources to address the housing needs of poor Nigerians, noting that the economic inequality in Nigeria had reached extreme levels and was playing itself out clearly in the housing sector.

“What I witnessed is that in so many ways the lives of so many Nigerians are at stake because of the housing situation,” she said, adding that “the right to housing must be recognised in a national law as a fundamental right that can be claimed.”

Nigeria’s major cities and towns are littered with vacant estates, some of which were never occupied decades after they were built. Most of the houses and estates are believed to be owned by top public servants and politicians who have access to the treasury.

It’s estimated that over 5,000 properties in Lagos are unoccupied due to over-pricing and high agency fee. In Abuja, the number of completed and vacant houses are over 30, 000 notwithstanding the high number of slum settlements dotting the city.

This is also linked to high rental fees irrespective of the efforts by successive and current administration to provide affordable homes for low income earners.

In separate interviews with LEADERSHIP in August 2018, experts including the managing director of Justin Okpu & Co Limited, Prince Justin Okpu, supported the introduction of property tax In Nigeria, arguing that it would correct the found-in-wealth distribution.

He had said that if the government could exercise the political will to enforce the policy it would address the anomaly.

Also, the president of Mortgage Bankers Association of Nigeria, Mr Adeniyi Akinlusi, said that property tax should be paid by owners whether the building was occupied or not.

Akinlusi said that the enactment of property taxation law could serve as an incentive that would mandate homeowners to put the property in use.

Also, former president of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Dr. Bolarinde Joshua Patunola-Ajayi, noted that property taxation had been enforced since the beginning of human existence.

He said: “When our parents were given land to cultivate in the community, at the end of the year, they will take yams and rice to the community head including goats, which is tax; it’s an obligation that you must fulfil and when you don’t do it, the chief’s messenger will remind you about it”.

Patunola-Ajayi cited a law in England known as Poor Relief Tax 160, meant for the collection of taxes to assist the poor.

The principal consultant of AA Abdulfatai & Co, Abdulfatai Abdulrauf rejected the taxation of unoccupied properties since such categories of houses failed to generate income for the owner.

This, he said, was because of the existence of laws of taxation like ground rent and tenement rate paid by house owners and some occupants.

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