If you are homeless and desperate, it must be particularly galling to see properties lying around empty. “How can that be fair?” they must ask themselves. A fair question.
The problem is particularly acute in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, home to some of the most expensive properties in the world – many of which are just bought and then left to lie empty while they increase in value.
Recent reports have shown that there are currently 1652 empty homes there, 37% of which have been unoccupied for two years or more.
Kensington & Chelsea you will remember is currently struggling to re-house the families from the Grenfell disaster, many (maybe even most) of whom are still waiting for accommodation.
However, the problem is a national one and research by the Lib Dems has recently found that over 11,000 properties have been lying empty for 11 years or more.
We have the power
It’s not like Local Authorities don’t have powers to deal with this. Local Authorities can increase Council Tax for empty homes, compulsory purchase properties or use Empty Dwelling Management Orders (which came into force in 2006).
Why are these not being used more? Answers could be:
- They are too expensive – Councils cannot afford to pay the compensation required under CPOs, or pay for dwellings to be upgraded so they can be used to house the homeless
- Councils do not have the staff to deal with the work and/or staff have not been trained to deal with these, often complex, procedures
- Council Officers are worried about going against property owners who are rich and powerful (or maybe violent criminals)
- They are using these powers but good stories never get into the news
I suspect it’s a combination of all of these
What can be done about it?
One of the problems specifically with empty homes in wealthy areas is that financial penalties don’t work. Even a 100% increase in Council tax is hardly going to bother a billionaire empty property owner. Sadly different rules tend to apply to the super-rich.
The problem with the other two procedures, in particular, Compulsory Purchase Orders is that they are complex and time-consuming. It would help if special ‘fast-track’ procedures could be introduced for empty properties which are in areas of particular need.
Councils also need to have the funding and the staff to deal with the processes and paperwork – but this is a general problem not specific to empty homes issues.
I suspect however that there are many success stories which never get into the news.
For example, the property next to my Mother’s house (in Norwich) was left empty for several years after the elderly couple who owned it died and their daughters who inherited it obviously did not want to live there, be responsible for renting it out or sell it. It has now been brought up to standard under a Council scheme and is occupied by tenants.
So if you know of any success stories please put them in the comments and let us know.
Local Authorities can’t do anything about empty homes unless they know about them. So if there is an empty home near you, you could contact the department that deals with empty home at your Local Authority and tell them.
They are also more likely to do something if there is local pressure so if you feel strongly, set up a pressure group.
If you are wondering whether you could buy an empty property, there is some helpful advice in this article.
The first step is to do a search at the Land Registry and see who owns it. Note that you may be able to get a grant to bring it up to the ‘decent homes standard’ – if you are lucky.
Landlords may also be eligible for an empty property grant – if your property has been empty for more than a year and if you are willing for it to be let to council-nominated tenants on a long-term lease – usually between five and ten years.
But I suspect that it is going to be very hard to deal with those large empty properties in rich London boroughs such as Kensington & Chelsea.