A house which had been empty for 30 years has been bought by Central Bedfordshire Council as part of its commitment to prevent properties from falling into disrepair.
The local authority has returned 338 long-term vacant homes to occupation during the last two years.
This refers to premises which are unoccupied for more than six months, its social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee heard.
The council’s head of housing service Nick Costin said: “The number of empty homes is increasing. The reasons can be:
- Data quality;
- Financial uncertainty;
- Housebuilding targets;
- Government policy and funding;
- Being viewed as an asset rather than a home;
- And deaths and probate delays.
“Locally there was a 23 per cent decrease in housing which had been empty for two years or more.
“New homes can be registered as empty and are liable for council tax on completion, but be recorded as vacant if they remain unoccupied“, he explained.
“The 100 per cent extra council tax premium is only charged after two years of a property being empty.
“That might be the trigger for owners to advise the council that a property has been occupied.”
In 2019/20, 217 were brought back into use and 145 recovered in 2020/21, despite officers being committed to housing rough sleepers during the pandemic.
“That’s whether by enforcement, the threat of taking such action, or help and advice for owners not knowing where to go.”
CBC’s lead on empty homes Janice Edmond said: “Our new cases include six empty home management orders, two compulsory purchase orders and one potential enforced sale.
“Most long-term vacant properties are a real blight on the neighbourhood, while some cause damage to neighbouring homes.
“In one case, the council had to carry our repairs to protect a neighbouring house and then make an empty home management order.
“And, in 2021, we completed a year-long project to make a groundbreaking compulsory purchase order on a property 30 years empty, owned by a deceased person, with beneficiaries of her will living in the USA.
“It’s a milestone for the council and provides a valuable tool where no other option remains.
“The council’s first potential enforced sale is a property which is empty and seriously damaged by fire.
“It has no roof and no internal structure, and the internal wall between this premises and the neighbouring one have been saturated over the months by rainwater, with the result that the neighbours have had to move out.
“I’ll be inspecting the property under warrant next week,” she explained.
“And if the owner doesn’t carry out the extensive works required to protect both homes CBC will carry out the works in his default.
“Following this, should it be necessary, the local authority could enforce the sale of the house to recover the debt.
“Enforcement work is always the last option and comes at the end of a long case sometimes lasting a year.”
The vast majority of cases are resolved through encouragement, help and negotiation.
“On a weekly basis, we enforce environmental health notices to immediately deal with buildings which aren’t secured and dangerous premises,” she added.
“We also prevent unauthorised access, clear rubbish or noxious substances, and rid land or buildings of mice and rats.”
Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion, who chairs the committee, said: “This is extremely impressive and residents really are grateful.”