Foreign buy-to-let investors to be revealed

THE extent of foreign investment in Jersey’s buy-to-let market and the identity of all landlords are set to be revealed after proposals for a digital register of property ownership were heavily backed by the States.

Deputy Mike Higgins                                                             Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29259841)
Deputy Mike Higgins Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29259841)

Following long-standing criticism of government efforts to provide affordable housing for Islanders, Members supported a proposition brought by Deputy Mike Higgins for a central list of all commercial and residential properties that details their ‘ultimate beneficial ownership’.

Supporters of the move say the register will finally reveal the extent of foreign investment in property, which they have long claimed is pricing locals out of the market, and hope the data will be used to form government policy on the issue.

It is not yet known whether the register will be public.

Last month the JEP revealed that two-thirds of the Castle Quay and Harbour Reach development on the Waterfront were buy-to-let. The new register would show whether the landlords are based in Jersey or abroad.

Concerns have also been raised that ‘share transfer companies’ are used to disguise ownership of properties, an issue which would be resolved by the ultimate beneficial ownership mechanism.

Members backed the section of the proposition calling for the register by 33 votes to five. The Assembly voted 31 to seven to make the end of 2021 the deadline for it to be produced.

But they rejected part of the proposition calling for the JFSC to maintain the register by 27 votes to 12, with several members stating they would prefer the government to be responsible for it.

Outlining the proposals, Deputy Higgins said the States had repeatedly failed Islanders by not dealing with soaring house prices, which he claimed were 20% to 30% overvalued.

‘Many of our children are leaving the Island because they see no prospect of ever owning their own home, or owning more than a one- or two-bedroom flat and not having room for a family to grow and thrive,’ he said.

‘This proposition should be seen as an attempt to try and deal with another part of the housing problem and hopefully make home ownership more affordable as a consequence.’

Deputy Geoff Southern said that Jersey’s housing market was ‘toxic’ and better knowledge of it was required to deal with the issue.

‘If we want to do something about it the first thing we need is the data – who owns what, where and how,’ he said.

Environment Minister John Young said that he did not believe Deputy Higgins’ proposals ‘went far enough’ and criticised the Island’s share transfer ownership model, under which properties are owned by companies, for not being transparent enough.

The Deputy also questioned the proposal to have the JFSC keep the register, a view which was voiced by several other Members, and called for the register to be open to the public once it is ready.

Deputy Rowland Huelin, a member of the Jersey Landlords’ Association and a vocal opponent of over-regulating the housing market, also supported the measure.

‘This takes us one more step towards making decisions from data rather than from opinions,’ he said.

The five Members who voted against the main proposition were: Senator Ian Gorst, Deputies Judy Martin and Gregory Guida and Constables Chris Taylor and Len Norman.

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