Research by Empty Homes, a charity campaigning for more empty homes to be brought into use to meet the growing housing need, reveals around 200,000 properties in England have been standing empty for more than six months, with an increase of over 5,000 recorded by local authorities in the year to October 2017.
In their research paper ‘Empty Homes: Why do some areas have high levels?’ the majority of local authorities who reported a relatively high level of empty homes across their areas gave the same primary reason: owners being unable to fund repairs or improve homes to occupy, sell or rent.
“Making sure your vacant property is kept well-maintained, safe and secure is one way to maximise its re-sell value, ensure it remains habitable, and keeps it in occupied use”, says Michael Knibbs, Managing Director of SafeSite Security Solutions.
Local authorities should have an empty homes strategy for their area with the ambition to reduce the number of long-term empty homes by working in collaboration with other housing providers and local agencies.
Part of this strategy usually involves seeking funding and allocating financial resources to buy and refurbish empty properties for those in need of housing. It also involves working with owners of long-term vacant properties to encourage them to bring homes back into use.
The kind of support that may be available to property owners includes:
- Grants to bring properties up the Decent Homes Standard and to meet fire safety, home security and energy efficiency measures.
- Interest free loans to help unlock investment from owners.
- Free advice covering legal issues and information for landlords on letting or selling their property.
- An opportunity for the local council to purchase the property at market value.
- Access to ‘matchmaker’ schemes that match empty home owners with potential buyers.
- Grants to convert commercial property into residential property.
- Tenant-finding schemes.
It’s important to note that where grants are available, applicants will usually be expected to fund a proportion of the works.
As a final resort, local authorities do have enforcement powers that enable them to bring long-term abandoned properties back into use. Councils can seek an Empty Dwelling Management Order or even a Compulsory Purchase Order where owners refuse to take action to bring a property back into use, where an owner cannot be traced or where a property has been empty for a long time and is causing a nuisance or is a danger to the public.
“Don’t run the risk of your empty property falling into disrepair and falling foul of housing regulations. Taking positive action such as ensuring vegetation and greenery is regularly cut back, installing a visible alarm and CCTV system, boarding up doors and windows and securing all entry points while the property is unoccupied will keep it safe and secure for future use”, adds Knibbs.
Many local authorities have a dedicated empty homes team and staff who specialise in providing support and advice to owners of empty properties to help them bring homes back into use. They can also advise if there is any funding or grants that property owners may be eligible for.