What The Local Authority Can Do If The Property Is Left Empty

The Local Authority has a responsibility and the legal powers to bring empty homes into use, but it is neither practical nor desirable for them to be involved in every case.

In practical terms, the Local Authority does not rely on legal enforcement, but a combination of advice, assistance, brokering and negotiation with property owners and service providers. However, when they are needed, there are a range of powers available to help get empty homes back into use.

All Local Authorities have a range of powers available to tackle problems with empty properties. These include:

  • The power to obtain land, housing or other properties for redevelopment or more housing
  • The power to order you to make a property or its surroundings safe or to take emergency action themselves in order to make a property or its surroundings safe
  • The power to order you to board up the property in an emergency or to take emergency action to do it for you
  • The power to order you to make a property safe and suitable to live in
  • The power to gain entry to a property to inspect if you have refused it
  • The power to acquire information from you eg about who owns a property
  • The power to order a property to be demolished

The types of situations where action may be taken include:

  • properties which are empty and open to access, possibly due to a break-in
  • where rubbish such as household refuse, food waste, old bedding, clothes or furniture has been left causing smells or attracting flies or vermin
  • properties or parts of properties which are dangerous e.g. slipped slates, badly leaning chimneys or walls
  • properties which are in disrepair and are causing a nuisance or damage to neighbouring properties e.g. missing roof slates or faulty rainwater goods which allow water to penetrate into the adjacent property
  • broken or insufficient drainage causing blockages, smells or rodent problems
  • properties which are badly dilapidated or in a ruinous condition
  • properties which are in such a poor state of repair that they are unfit for habitation
  • overgrown gardens acting as harbourage for pests
  • properties adversely affecting the amenity of the area

Some of the formal action that can be considered by the Local Authority is detailed below.

Enforcement Notices

There are a range of Notices that can be served on a property owner requiring them to undertake works for repair or demolition (to vacant and occupied properties) If the Notice is not complied with the Local Authority may step in to carry out the works themselves, placing a charge on the property and recovering debts at a later date.

Empty Dwelling Management Orders

Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) are a legal power that enables councils to put an unoccupied privately owned home back into use. If you have rejected reasonable voluntary solutions the local authority has the power to take over the management of the property. Initially this will be for up to a year, but if you still can’t agree on a voluntary solution with the local authority it can be extended up to seven years. The powers ultimately allow councils to take over the management of a home for a period of up to seven years.

The Local Authority is able to renovate the property, let it and collect the rent. The rent is paid to the Local Authority, who are able to recover any costs they may have incurred by taking possession of the property and making it habitable, as well as the routine costs of maintenance and letting. However, any money over and above these costs is to be paid to the owner of the property.

The Local Authority will not be able to sell the property or secure debts on it under an Empty Dwelling Management Order, however they may be able to do these things using other powers.

Voluntary Acquisition Process

The property may be purchased, with the agreement of the owner, and then sold on to a Registered Social Landlord or other partner to develop and ensure reoccupation.

Compulsory Purchase Orders

The Local Authority has the power to buy your empty property with or without your permission. However, they can only do so if you have no realistic plans for it yourself and you won’t consider any voluntary options for returning it to use. Compulsory Purchase Orders are for example, sometimes used to buy the land needed to enable road building schemes to go ahead. There are also circumstances where councils can compulsorily purchase empty homes in order to get them back into use, to demolish them, or to replace them.

In practice, Local Authorities will only consider compulsory purchase of empty homes - outside major clearance area schemes etc - as a last resort. They will usually seek to help property owners bring empty homes into use, and will only consider compulsory purchase if this help and encouragement has been unsuccessful and no agreement has been reached.

Enforced Sale Of Empty Homes

Local Authorities are able to force the sale of empty homes in order to recover debts. Such debts will usually have arisen because the owner has not paid for repair work carried out on the property by the council, usually as a result of the owner failing to comply with a legal notice requiring work.

The outcome is that either the owner repays the debt or the property is sold in order to recover the debt. All costs incurred by the Local Authority can be recovered from the proceeds of sale and any remaining proceeds are passed to the second charge if there is one. Otherwise the balance is either paid into court, or held in an interest bearing account within the council. The owner can apply to the court to be paid the remaining funds.

There is a similar procedure that the Local Authority can undertake for debts resulting from non-payment of Council Tax charges.

Other Powers

Local Authorities have a range of other powers available to tackle problems with empty properties. These include;

  • The power to obtain land, housing or other properties for redevelopment or more housing
  • The power to order you to make a property or its surroundings safe or to take emergency action themselves in order to make a property or its surroundings safe
  • The power to order you to board up the property in an emergency or to take emergency action to do it for you
  • The power to order you to make a property safe and suitable to live in
  • The power to gain entry to a property to inspect if you have refused it
  • The power to aquire information from you eg about who owns a property
  • The power to order a property to be demolished

The types of situations where notices may be served include:

  • properties which are empty and open to access, possibly due to a break-in
  • where rubbish such as household refuse, food waste, old bedding, clothes or furniture has been left causing smells or attracting flies or vermin
  • properties or parts of properties which are dangerous e.g. slipped slates, badly leaning chimneys or walls
  • properties which are in disrepair and are causing a nuisance or damage to neighbouring properties e.g. missing roof slates or faulty rainwater goods which allow water to penetrate into the adjacent property
  • broken or insufficient drainage causing blockages, smells or rodent problems
  • properties which are badly dilapidated or in a ruinous condition
  • properties which are in such a poor state of repair that they are unfit for habitation
  • overgrown gardens acting as harbourage for pests
  • properties adversely affecting the amenity of the area