Posted on 2nd February 2013

The Problem of Empty Homes

By Martin Williamson, Head of Residential Property, Latimer Hinks Solicitors

The growing number of empty homes has led to social issues that look set to stay with us for some time. The increasing level of unoccupied properties across the length and breadth of Britain is leading to anti-social behaviour including vandalism, fly tipping, squatting and general criminal activity, yet the demand for housing has never been greater.

According to the charity Empty Homes, which is campaigning for more unoccupied homes to be brought back into use, of the total housing stock of 1,186,982 in the North East, 44, 960 or 3.79% are empty, which represents the third highest percentage in the UK, after the North West and Yorkshire and Humber.

The charity makes the point that "a neglected home can quickly start to cause problems for neighbours, depressing the value of adjacent properties and attracting criminal activity words that will ring true with many people who are forced to live in the vicinity of empty homes. While unoccupied homes slowly deteriorate and cause problems for those around them, an estimated 4.5 million people are languishing on the waiting list for socialhousing, or are struggling to find an affordable property to buy or rent.

Councils across our region have received £7m share of £60m government funding to assist in the transformation of private empty properties across the region. The regeneration work undertaken on the scheme will benefit the local economy by using local contractors to carry out the work.

As well as reducing available stock, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, derelict buildings drain confidence in the surrounding area, with the value of the adjoining properties cut by as much as 18 per cent, Other properties, needing only minor work, remain disused because owners lack money or are simply unsure about what to do with them.

Housing Associations such as Vela are running an Empty Homes Project, where the property is leased to the Association, refurbished and let to tenants. This is win/win for every party involved, providing income for landlords, more homes to let for the Housing Association and properties for tenants.

Stockton on Tees Borough Council for example and the Homes and Communities Agency have committed a £1.5 million capital fund to provide support in the form of loans to owners of empty properties to help them pay for the necessary renovation work to bring the property back into use and provide good quality, affordable residential accommodation.

The cost of renovation works is one of the biggest obstacles to bringing empty properties back into use and the loan scheme is a tangible solution to the problem. The loan fund is operated as a revolving fund so that as the loans are repaid, the money is re-lent to support new properties being returned to use.The Council is working in partnership with Coast and Country Housing, Vela and Community Campus 87 this project is part of the Councils on-going commitment to return long term empty properties to residential use.

Initiatives such as these are to be applauded and encouraged as ways to address both the dire shortage of housing stock and the problems arising from residential properties.

Please note: This article is intended as guidance only and does not constitute advice, financial or otherwise. No responsibility for loss occasioned/costs arising as a result of any act/failure to act on the basis of this article can be accepted by Latimer Hinks. In addition, no responsibility for loss occasioned/costs arising as a result of any act/failure to act on the basis of this article can be accepted by the firm.