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Published: 11/09/2019

There has been continuous media coverage surrounding the lack of available housing and the need to build more houses, which has significantly increased pressure on local councils to find new homes. They are increasingly needing to be more creative in accommodating residents at affordable levels.
In recent years we have seen this lead many councils to focus on ways to increase the supply of housing and one area of focus is to target property owners who keep unoccupied buildings, to ensure that they are re-occupied. 
One step which councils can take is to threaten to apply to the First-Tier Property Tribunal for an interim “Empty Dwelling Management Order” (EDMO) which can be made if a property has been empty for at least six months. This can be an expensive process and a council would usually wait longer than six months and try to persuade the owner to take action without issuing proceedings. If this is granted, a council becomes the manager of the property and would have up to 12 months to take steps to make sure that the property is re-occupied. This significantly reduces the rights of the property owner.
An EDMO grants the council powers to include a right to do works to the property and grant a licence to occupy. Unless a property owner authorises it to do so, the council could not sell or let the property.
There are some grounds of exemption from an EDMO which include if they are genuinely trying to sell or let the property or they are in care but this represents a risk to property owners.
Secondly, a council may try to deal with empty properties by raising the council tax as in some circumstances, a council can increase council tax payable by 100% or more of the existing premium, when a home has been empty for more than two years. Similarly, there are exemptions from this including if the owner is receiving personal care or if the property is already exempt from council tax. However, there is greater scrutiny and by trying to dispose of the property for a longer period of time is not likely to be sufficient and this will vary between different councils, reiterating the need for pro-active management of buildings.
The other option that is open to a council is to use compulsory purchase powers which would allow the council to forcibly purchase the property, paying the owner compensation, thus taking away the control of the owner.
We are seeing examples of each of the above scenarios occurring which varies throughout different locations and councils. Together with a greater emphasis on council spending and reduced housing supply, this is a very real issue that property owners need to be mindful of. Strettons provide full management services for large or small property owners, with proactive management to ensure that such all manners of risk including holding empty property are mitigated.