Thousands of homes left empty in Tasmania despite critical rental shortage

Now why would owners with a second house leave it empty?  A major reason is poor protection for landlords.  Destructive tenants can leave owners with repair bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. And there is nothing to be done about it.  Many owners experiencing that will simply withdraw from the rental market

An analysis of Taswater data suggests up to 2,000 homes could be sitting empty across Tasmania, despite Hobart having the tightest rental market in the country. 

The Tenants' Union used water consumption data to estimate how many empty houses there were within three inner-city council areas.

If a property used less than 10 per cent of the annual average water consumption over three consecutive years, it was deemed empty.

"It's extremely disheartening that we have up to 2,000 empty homes across Tasmania during a housing crisis," Ben Bartl from the Tenants Union of Tasmania said. 

"Not shacks. Not Airbnbs. Just empty."

The data found there were 192 vacant residential properties in the Hobart City Council area, 115 in the Glenorchy municipality and 256 in Launceston.

The Tenants Union excluded areas with a high number of shacks, and calculated that across Tasmania there could be between 1,486 and 1,932 empty homes.

"That is homes that are just sitting there while we have a housing crisis," said Mr Bartl.

"There are thousands of people looking for affordable rental properties.

"It just beggars belief that we have people that are prepared to sit on investment properties."

Hobart has the lowest rental vacancy rate of any Australian capital at 0.9 per cent.

Launceston's vacancy rate is 0.8 per cent.

Calls to introduce 'empty house' tax 

Mr Bartl wants the state government to introduce an empty home tax to act as disincentive to investors. 

"In Vancouver and Melbourne, if you leave your home empty for more than six months without a reasonable excuse you are charged 1 per cent of the value of the property."

He said the revenue could be invested in affordable housing.

"With the average house price in Hobart $675,000 and in Launceston $461,000, a 1-per-cent tax on empty homes in the Launceston, Hobart and Glenorchy municipalities would have raised $3.2 million for affordable housing each year or almost $10 million for affordable housing over the past three years."

Mr Bartl argues it would also put downward pressure on rents.

The Rental Affordability Index found Hobart is the least affordable capital city in Australia.

"We need to be pulling all levers [so] that everybody that does [need to] have a roof over their head has one."

Matt Haubrick from the Housing Alliance Tasmania supports the idea. "It's a bit of a disgrace," he said.

"The majority of people are just having to stay living at home, living with friends, living on couches, living in lounge rooms or in their vehicles.

"Those are the lucky people who have some sort of support network and aren't forced to live on the streets or in crisis accommodation."

The Minister for Housing, Michael Ferguson, ruled out imposing an empty house tax.

"Without clarification on what is captured in their statistics regarding vacant lots, houses under construction or in the planning phase or other factors that might result in low water usage, it is very difficult to say how relevant the statistics provided by the Tenant's Union are," he said.

He said the government's priority was addressing housing supply issues.

"This is the only way to combat the rising housing [prices] and put downwards pressure on home prices and rentals," Mr Ferguson said.

The Tasmanian government plans to build 3,500 new social and affordable houses by 2027.

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