Forcing property heirs into sale ‘a new form of expropriation’ – MP

Nationalist MP Carm Mifsud Bonnici says proposed reduction of litigation period for heirs wrangling over whether to sell an inherited property was too drastic • Justice minster says law intended at placing more vacant properties on the market and to ease pressure to develop on virgin land

A proposal to drastically reduce the litigation period for heirs caught up in a dispute over the sale of inherited property would be equivalent to “a new form of expropriation”, Nationalist MP Carm Mifsud Bonnici has warned.

The amendment to the Civil Code, announced in the 2016 Budget, will reduce the litigation period – the minimum period before which a claim can be brought to court – for wrangling property heirs from the current 10, to three years.

Just over 50% of the heirs would have to be in agreement over the property’s sale, and the proposed sale price must be proven to match the market value before the property can be sold.

But Mifsud Bonnici warned the House that three years of litigation was not enough time, and that the amendment was equivalent to State interference in private property affairs. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and we must be careful how we tread with regards forms of expropriation, particularly since the EU Court of Justice tends to look harshly on such cases,” he said.

He argued that not all vacant properties are left off the market due to inheritance-related problems. 

“Some people might choose to keep the properties in their name, because they plan to move into the house when they retire or give it to their children in the future, or perhaps because it has emotional value to them,” he said. 

Justice minister Owen Bonnici had earlier said that the amendment has been proposed so as to encourage the sale of vacant properties and to ease the pressure off development in virgin lands outside development zones. 

Citing official figures, he said that there are currently 41,000 vacant properties in Malta. However, the veracity of the figures was cast into doubt by Opposition MP Censu Galea, who questioned whether the figure also includes summer houses and properties in which people reside, but isn’t declared as such on their ID cards.

Planning parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon said that the government wants to encourage the purchase of properties in city centres – through the inheritance amendment, as well as through the budget-announced reduction in withholding tax on properties in urban conservation areas, and the halving of registration tax on properties bought in urban conservation areas.

More in Budget 2016