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Empty Homes Service From Vacant to Valued Making us proud of our neighbourhoods Version 1.2 October 2010 Foreword There is a serious housing shortage in this country. In 2009 there were also 652,000 empty homes in England alone. While the focus is often on the demand for new housing, the reoccupation of empty homes is at least part of the solution to the problem. In a society where thousands of people are homeless, and many more live in accommodation that is overcrowded or below standard, empty homes are an unacceptable waste of resources. At a time when maximising the use of existing assets and delivering more for less is at the top of the political agenda, empty homes issues are, rightly, becoming more prominent in both local and national debates. Empty homes can cause great harm to communities and have a negative impact on the built environment, encouraging urban decline and blight, as well as being magnets for anti-social behaviour, reducing the value of surrounding properties and contributing to crime and the fear of crime. Returning empty homes to use is an efficient way to increase property supply; it is usually far cheaper than building new properties and has many associated personal and social benefits for the community as a whole. This document provides an overview of some of the work of the Empty Homes team at Derby City Council, a city with over 2000 homes that have been empty in excess of six months. Our Empty Homes Strategy provides us with a well planned and proactive approach to empty homes, and our prominent role in the East Midlands Empty Property Forum (EMEPF) and the Empty Homes Network, (formerly the National Association of Empty Property Practitioners), as well as strong links with the Empty Homes Agency, Homes and Communities Agency and other strategic bodies, ensures that we are at the forefront of best practice and policy development. While we have been very successful over the years, returning properties to use through the use of both voluntary and enforcement measures, there is still a great deal more to be done. With continued support from Councillors and our partners both within and external to the Council, the Empty Homes team will continue to meet this challenge head-on and deliver an efficient, effective, front-line service to the people of Derby. Tony Briggs Empty Homes Manager October 2010 2 Empty Homes Service Contents Page 1. Service Benefits 4 2. Our Achievements 5 3. Core Service Objectives 6 4. Background to Empty Homes 7 5. Case Studies 8 6. Service Delivery 12 7. Derby Empty Home Trends 2004 - 2010 13 8. National Action on Empty Homes 14 9. Focus on Derby 15 10. Vision for the Future 16 11. Media Coverage 17 12. Contact Information 20 3 Service Benefits Returning empty properties to useful occupation is a front-line service that benefits the local community, local authority and strategic partners by: • Increasing the choice of and access to, safe, energy efficient and affordable housing at a time of high housing demand. • Improving property conditions and transforming them into productive assets. • Reducing the need for new build properties. • Encouraging an increase in community involvement to address problem properties. • Contributing to the regeneration of deprived areas of the community and helping to mitigate against urban decline and blight. • Helping to tackle crime, the fear of crime, and anti-social behaviour. • Providing the basis for compulsory purchase action where a voluntary solution cannot be reached • Recovery of local authority debt associated with council tax, local land charges etc. • Demonstrating the commitment of Derby City Council to the improvement and sustainability of housing in the City. 4 Some of Our Achievements The Empty Homes team has: • Provided practical solutions to owners, including advice in relation to owner-occupation, housing association leasing, letting, sales, renovation, squatters, energy efficiency and legal requirements. • Developed and implemented a comprehensive and robust strategy for the return to use of empty homes. • Along with other Council departments, been instrumental in the reoccupation (or demolition) of more than 570 empty properties between 1st April 2006 and 1st October 2010. • Invested £450,000 in Empty Homes Assistance loans resulting in the return to beneficial use of over £3 million worth of housing stock. With further properties nearing completion, that figure will increase to in excess of £4 million. • Carried out works in default where owners fail to rectify severe problems. The cost is then recharged to the property owners. In the 12 months from September 2009 to September 2010, the Empty Homes team recovered in excess of £20,000 of debt that was owed to the Council. Much of this was overdue council tax that has now been paid following our intervention. Earlier in 2009, one case resulted in payment to the Council of over £40,000. 5 Core Service Objectives The main objectives of our service are to: • Trace and communicate with empty property owners to bring properties back into use voluntarily. • Negotiate reoccupation by providing assistance and guidance with regards to voluntary sale, rental, leasing or referral to the Local lettings Agency. • Carry out essential works in default where empty properties pose a risk to the community. • Offer advice and support to property owners. • Address the concerns of local councillors, residents’ groups and individuals who are affected by empty properties in their area. • Meet local needs and target national objectives. • Ensure Derby City Council maintains a high profile in national and regional empty property organisations such as The Empty Homes Agency and the Empty Homes Network. • Work with organisations and departments such as the Homes and Communities Agency and Communities and Local Government to inform emerging Government policy on empty homes. _________________________ The Empty Homes Strategy links with wider Council aims and strategies, including: • Homelessness Strategy • Housing Strategy • Housing Enforcement Policy • Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy • Supporting People Strategy 6 Background to Empty Homes Why Properties Become Empty • The owner has moved into residential care or has passed away. • The owner has moved away to give care to a relative suffering from ill health. • A couple move in together, leaving one home empty. • Tenants leave and absentee landlords cannot be contacted. • The owner is in prison. • The owner has simply abandoned the property. Why Properties Remain Empty • Lack of knowledge/skills to refurbish or manage a vacant property. • Lethargy or indifference – maximisation of wealth from assets is not a priority for an individual or company. • Business disputes. • Inheritance disputes. • DIY owner – a property is acquired as a renovation project, but expense or unforeseen problems escalate. • Owner inertia – owners who do not wish to sell or rent due to previous bad experiences or sentimental reasons. • Property owner has died and there are no traceable descendents. • Land-banking – owners waiting for values to increase and not wanting to offer the property for rent in the meantime. • Obstruction – owners who simply refuse to bring the property back in to use. 7 Case Study: A • Vacant for over seven years and increasingly run- down, attempts by the Empty Homes Team to help the owner were floundering due to his poor state of health. When he passed away no next of kin could be traced. • This seemed to create a stalemate, but persistent lobbying of the Treasury Solicitor, with the support of both Legal Services and Social Services, resulted in the property being placed on the market Before for sale. • After the sale, the new owners were immediately contacted by the Empty Homes Team. • With our assistance, the property was subsequently renovated to a very high standard and re-occupied. After 8 Case Study: B • A local landlord purchased a long-term empty property and was awarded Empty Homes Assistance in late 2009. • Remedial works to the property were completed in June 2010 and the owner has now placed the property with the Local Lettings Agency administered by the Decent & Safe Homes (DASH) Before team, based at Derby City Council. • The landlord has accredited his property through the Derby Accredited Property Scheme (DAPS) to the higher ‘Accredited Plus’ standard. • A previously empty home is now a well-maintained, well-presented property that provides accommodation for vulnerable people. After 9 Case Study: C Before After • This centrally located long term empty property was a blight on the street and subject to many neighbour complaints and Councillor enquiries. • Persistent attempts to persuade the owner to address its poor condition had proven unsuccessful. • Legal powers were used to remedy the external dilapidation and run-down appearance. • The cost of these works has been added as a charge on the property. 10 Case Study: D • The Empty Homes team were made aware of a property that had been vandalised and was open to entry. • A Section 29 notice was served to immediately secure the property against access, thereby preventing possible injury to curious members of the public or further vandalism. • The owner of the property was contacted and his initial reluctance to act was overcome by the Empty Homes team through advice, assistance and negotiation. The property was quickly refurbished and let to a new tenant. • The successful negotiation process between the owner and the Empty Homes team avoided the need for potentially time- consuming and expensive compulsory purchase action. • Through this intervention, the Empty Homes team reduced risk to the public, secured early reoccupation, prevented further deterioration to the property, provided an additional unit of accommodation and considerably improved the appearance of the locality. 11 Service Delivery 12 Derby Empty Home Trends 2004-2010 Empty Homes in Derby 2009/10 Total and long term empty 2009/10 5000 4500 4000 No. of dwellings 3500 3000 Total Empty 2500 LT Empty 2000 1500 1000 500 0 Qtr 1 Qtr 2 Qtr 3 Qtr 4 Empty Homes in Derby 2004-2010 Empty Properties 2004-10 5000 4500 4000 No of dwellings 3500 3000 TOTAL EMPTY 2500 LT EMPTY 2000 1500 1000 500 0 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Year The total figures are subject to substantial fluctuation but average at around 4,000 total empty and just over 2000 long term empty homes. 13 Action on Empty Homes The National View: “…bringing empty homes into use will provide real help now to the 4.5 million people currently on the social housing waiting list and the one hundred families that are having their home repossessed every day. It will also go a long way towards reducing the crime and anti-social behaviour associated with empty housing.” Rt Hon David Cameron, Prime Minister “We need to do something about empty buildings, which are not just a waste – they are a blight on the local community, and attract crime and anti-social behaviour” Rt Hon Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Liberal Democrats “Local authorities have the power to be great at helping return empty homes to use. Some already are, but with the recession causing more homes to fall empty it has never been more important for all councils to do more” David Ireland, Chief Executive, Empty Homes Agency 14 Action on Empty Homes Focus on Derby: “A Conservative Council will… Use compulsory purchase powers to bring empty housing back into use…” Derby City Conservative Group 2010 Manifesto “Empty homes are a major problem in Derby. I have made it my business to find out how much of a problem. We have 500 homes that have been empty for more than five years - half of them have been empty for more than 10 years. Overall, there are several thousand empty homes. I want to see more powers for local authorities to do something about this.” Rt Hon Chris Williamson, MP (Derby North) "Empty homes blight local neighbourhoods and can potentially attract anti-social behaviour. That is why councils must do all they can to bring empty homes in their area back into use.” Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, MP (Derby South) 15 Vision for the Future The Empty Homes team is developing, or is a partner in developing, the following: Local Letting Agency Devised in conjunction with the regional Decent and Safe Homes (DASH) project, the Local Letting Agency (LLA) operates in a similar way to other letting agents, but links a property sourcing, renovation and management function that is devoted to housing only those people on the housing register. The LLA operates across the Derbyshire Housing Market Area and has attracted funding from the Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (EM IEP). By closely linking the LLA to empty homes work, we can provide a pool of empty properties that can be utilised to house those in need. Property and management standards are closely monitored, resulting in previously wasted homes offering safe, well managed accommodation for tenants. Guaranteed rents and flexible terms offer security for the property owner, resulting in a scheme that benefits all parties. Community Involvement and Action The Empty Homes team is currently working on a bid to the Homes and Communities Agency to pilot an empty property loan scheme that would allow local community groups to submit tenders to renovate empty properties and bring them back into use. Work would be supervised by the Empty Homes team and the loan would be repaid through rental income, allowing the initial capital fund to be recycled. Empty Homes Assistance The team is working to source funding for the continuation of its very popular Empty Homes Assistance (EHA), an interest-free loan encouraging and facilitating the return to use of empty homes. Over a 5 year period the scheme loaned £450,000 to bring over £3million of housing back into use. 16 Media Coverage £3m of empty housing is now back into use The Derby Evening Telegraph Monday, January 04 2010 DERBY City Council has helped return £3m of housing back into use in the past five years. It has invested £450,000 in so-called empty homes assistance loans, which help owners restore properties not being lived in to get them back into use. There are around 4,000 empty homes in the city, making up around 4% of the housing stock. Of those empty homes, 2,000 have been vacant for six months or more. The authority has been working to reduce that number because empty homes can attract crime and anti-social behaviour and contribute to areas becoming run-down. In the past year, the authority’s empty homes service has also written to the owners of more than 400 empty properties. Of those, 70 are now back in occupation. The council is also close to buying six empty properties to bring them back into use. In October 2008, the authority successfully used compulsory purchase orders to buy six run-down homes in Leopold Street and Arboretum Square. A spokesman said: “The council is now well on the way towards ensuring that the properties soon pass on to responsible ownership”. 17 Media Coverage Council brings empty homes back into use The Derby Evening Telegraph Friday, January 15 2010 THERE are more than 9,000 empty homes in Derbyshire, according to figures produced by the Liberal Democrats. The statistics show that in Derby there are 5,099 empty properties, 1,278 in Amber Valley, 960 in Derbyshire Dales, 1,157 in Erewash and 750 in South Derbyshire. The Derby Telegraph has previously reported that about half the empty properties in Derby have been vacant for six months or more. The authority, run by Lib-Dems, has been working to reduce the number because empty homes attract crime and anti-social behaviour. In 2009, the authority’s empty homes service also wrote to the owners of more than 400 empty properties. Of those, 70 are now occupied. The council is also buying six empty properties to bring them back into use. In October 2008, the authority successfully used compulsory purchase orders to buy six run-down homes in Leopold Street and Arboretum Square. Amber Valley Borough Council said it has been working hard to address the problem and has seen successes. Sue Li, an empty property officer at the authority, featured in two episodes of Britain’s Empty Homes. She was recommended for the show by the East Midlands Empty Property Forum because she produced good results. Nationally the Lib-Dems want more to be done and said they would bring 250,000 homes across the country back into use. Party Leader Nick Clegg MP said: “Allowing thousands of homes to sit empty when millions of families have been waiting years for a home is nothing short of a scandal”. 18 Media Coverage BBC Derby Thursday 26 August 2010 http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/derby/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8946000/8946933.stm There are more than 4,000 homes in Derby, Erewash, South Derbyshire, and Amber Valley that have been left empty for longer than six months. Around half of those are in Derby where there are currently 8,000 people waiting to be housed by the council. They can have a negative affect on an area and become cannabis factories, brothels and squats, according to the city council's Empty Property Manager. Tony Briggs says the unused houses are seen as a wasted resource. The reasons for homes being left unused can vary enormously. Many are as a result of would-be property developers buying a house as a project and then running out of money. Messy divorces and inheritance disputes are common causes. Some people hang on for sentimental reasons and one of the biggest issues is when people die but don't leave their property in a will. And the problem was made worse during the recession as people were evicted for non-payment of mortgages. Neighbourhood impact Some properties have been empty for as long as seven years and part of the Empty Property Manager's job is to try to trace owners and relatives of deceased owners. But Tony Briggs says empty housing can have a huge impact on neighbours: "There have been reports of feral foxes and rats - many gardens become overgrown. When [neighbours] are perhaps looking to sell their property, if people come to view, this would be the first thing they see! "They might not even remember the property [they've come to see] - they'll remember this empty property and the ten-foot-high fence they've had to put up in the back garden so they can't see next door." Neighbours of one empty property in the city told BBC Derby they feel unsafe. But the problem extends beyond uncared for properties - Tony Briggs has been trying to get a house worth £340,000 back into use in recent months. It can be a long job, though the director of housing at Derby City Council, Mark Menzies, says the law can be on their side: "We have fairly strong powers - we can force properties to be brought back into use... by compulsory purchasing if necessary." Many of these buildings stand empty because people are afraid of reporting them. So if you have an empty property on your street, the advice is to ring your local council and ask to be put through to the empty property officer. This can be done anonymously. 19 Contact Information Tony Briggs Clive Mozley Empty Homes Manager Empty Homes Officer Tel: 01332 255629 Tel: 01332 258456 Fax: 01332 256915 Fax: 01332 256915 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Empty Homes Service Derby City Council St Peter’s House 7th Floor Gower Street Derby DE1 1SB www.derby.gov.uk/housing/emptyhomes From Vacant to Valued - making us proud of our neighbourhoods 20
"Empty Homes Service From Vacant to Valued"