There are an estimated 785,000 empty homes in England at a time of unprecedented housing need.  This would provide homes to over 1 Million people.

Bringing empty properties back into use helps maximise occupation of the existing stock and contributes to meeting the need for affordable housing.

Properties are left empty by their owners for a number of reasons, including:

•    The need to undertake repairs or renovation;
•    Bought for investment potential;
•    Waiting for the right time to sell;
•    Don’t want the hassle of renting;
•    Legal disputes or bereavement; or
•    Not sure what to do with the property

Empty properties are known to have an adverse affect on the neighborhood.  Examples include:

•    Nuisance to neighbours, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors estimates that properties adjoining poorly maintained empty homes can be devalued by as much as 18%;

•    Adverse effect on amenity of an area;
•    Reduces confidence in the area, which can lead to a downward spiral;
•    Safety risk to children – magnet for young children;
•    Problems with vandalism, arson and squatting;
•    Magnet for alcohol/drug abuse; and
•    Increase in crime and fear of crime.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have lived next door to a property that has been left empty for a long period of time will understand the frustration and misery such a situation can create.

Owners don’t realise that their empty property represents a wasted opportunity to turn an eyesore into an asset.  When considering the following factors, it is a wonder why owners would wish to keep their property empty.

Loss of potential rental income (£5,000-£9,000 a year).

Liability to pay council tax&utilities (subject to any exemption) (£1,300 – £2,000 a year);

Empty properties attract anti-social behaviour, including criminal damage, vandalism, arson and squatting.

The “Broken Window Syndrome”, once a property looks to be in poor condition and suffers minor vandalism, this often gives the green light to cause more significant damage. Early intervention will result in minimal cost to the owner, but once a property suffers significant damage the cost to the owner can be overwhelming.

A survey of empty properties in Kent, showed the average cost of bringing an empty property back into use was under £6,000.

If squatters move into the property the legal fees involved in recovering possession can run into thousands of pounds.

Councils often become involved with empty properties due to the detrimental effect they have on the local community.  Where there are problems such as refuse, rodents or health and safety concerns, the Council will  take formal action requiring the owner to undertake remedial works.  Where those works are not done, the Council can in most cases undertake the works in default, the cost of which will be recovered from the owner.

Many empty properties do not have any or have inadequate insurance in place.  Owners should be aware that normal household insurance will only be valid if the property is unoccupied for a short period of time.  Where the property is left vacant for any significant period of time, you may find that the insurer will not cover any damage, due to the risk associated with empty properties.  Owners need to buy specialist insurance which is often very expensive.  You may also find that in some cases the property will be uninsurable.

Where the property causes a nuisance, damage to a person or other property, then the owner can be held liable.  This could put your personal assets like your own home at risk, particularly where there is inadequate insurance in place.
Consequently, it is for the above reasons that Councils develop strategies to deal with long term vacant properties.  In all instances, Councils will try to work with empty property owners on how best to bring the property back into use.  They can offer advice on a range of matters, including:

•  financial and non-financial assistance;
•  maximise the property opportunities e.g. conversion into flats;
•  guidance on how best to sell your property;
•  guidance on how to rent out your property; and
•  how to find suitable builders.

However, where the owner will not engage constructively with the Authority or there are other problems which prevent the property being brought back into use, such as the owner is deceased and there is no known family, then the Authority will look at a range of legislative options to resolve the issue.