29 Sep 2020

Property Council lashes Basil Zempilas' plan to hit landowners with 'vacancy tax'

High-profile Perth mayoral candidate Basil Zempilas' plans to hike council rates for "greedy" landlords with vacant retail space have been slammed by Western Australia's influential Property Council.

The Property Council of WA criticised the idea after a mayoral debate on Tuesday, saying rent increases for struggling owners were "poor policy" and "hardly an incentive".

In a column titled If I ran for lord mayor, here are my 10 steps to improve Perth’s CBD, published last November, Mr Zempilas said he would increase the rate bills of landlords with "empty shops".

"No tenant, higher rates," the sports commentator wrote.

"There are far too many empty shops — not helped no doubt by some of the issues I’ve addressed, but despite the vacancies, some greedy landlords won’t budge on sky-high rents.

"If their shops are still empty after 12 months, how about an empty-shop rates penalty."

When quizzed about the policy by Property Council WA executive director Sandra Brewer, Mr Zempilas acknowledged it would be unpopular, but "buildings couldn't stay empty forever".

"So if an incentive is required to fill a building then so be it," he said.

Mr Zempilas added it was not a policy he planned to implement immediately and it would have "a long qualifying period".

But Ms Brewer said property owners were operating in difficult economic conditions to attract and retain tenants and urged the City of Perth to cut red tape instead of penalising landlords.

She said CBD property owners were already getting higher bills after the council backflipped on its decision to freeze rates in March, when office vacancy rates were at an all-time high.

In June, analysis by property research firm Research Y revealed about a fifth of Perth's office space was vacant, the equivalent of 21.5 fully vacant 240 St Georges Terrace buildings.

"We need lower costs, not more costs and we need vital infrastructure, such as schools and playgrounds in place to support a future residential population of 90,000 by 2050," she said.

"We need to deliver the best possible retail, commercial and tourism experience for the people who live, work, and visit Perth."

Ms Brewer said the City of Perth needed a Lord Mayor who pushed for lower costs to attract business tenants, not one advocating for added charges.

Perth electors will vote on October 17 in the first City of Perth election since the troubled local government was suspended in 2018.

SOURCE: https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/western-australia/property-council-lashes-basil-zempilas-over-plan-to-hit-landowners-with-vacancy-tax-20200915-p55vyh.html

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