Unoccupied Homes: Owners beware!


Our team: Leanne Meredith


Unoccupied Homes: Owners beware!

As frequently reported in the news, local councils are under increasing pressure to find homes for their residents, there is however limited stock available. Councils are therefore under pressure to both be more creative about how residents are accommodated, and use all available options to make sure that housing stock is increased.

One of the ways in which local councils have tried to help plug the housing gap is by using existing legislation to ensure that some of the many empty homes in their area are re-occupied.

Increase council tax

One of the first ways which a council might try and tempt the owner of an empty home to bring it back into use is by hitting them financially and raising council tax. In some circumstances, a council has the ability to increase council tax payable by 100% or more of the existing premium, when a home has been empty for more than two years.

Exemptions can apply – for example, an owner may not need to pay increased council tax if the property is already exempt from council tax, or if they have moved elsewhere to receive personal care.  A property owner is however unlikely to escape paying the uplift just because they have been attempting to sell or let a property for more than two years.

As policy can differ between councils, it is always best to check with the relevant local council if you have a query about how much council tax on your empty home could increase by.

Empty Dwelling Management Orders

Another step which can be taken by a council looking to bring an empty home back into use is for it to threaten to apply to the First Tier Property Tribunal for what is known as an “interim EDMO”.  A council can make such an application once a property has been empty for six months. In practice, however, due to the cost involved in making an application, we would expect a council to both wait longer than six months, and to first try to persuade an owner to take action without issuing proceedings.

If an interim EDMO is granted, a council becomes the manager of the property and would have up to 12 months to take steps to try and make sure that the property is re-occupied. A property owner’s rights are significantly limited by the EDMO: the council’s powers would 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 however sell, lease or dispose of the property. A council could later apply for a “final EDMO” if it needs further time or wants a right to lease the property.

In order to obtain an interim EDMO, as well as proving that the property has been empty for six months, a council will need to prove that there is no reasonable prospect that the property will become occupied in the near future. It also needs to give the owner of the property at least 3 months’ notice of its intention to apply for an EDMO.

There are several grounds on which a property can be exempted from being made subject to an EDMO, such as:

  • it is genuinely on the market for sale or letting;
  • because the sole or principal owner/s of the property:
    • is temporarily resident elsewhere;
    • is absent for the purpose of receiving personal care by reason of old age, disablement, illness, past or present alcohol or drug dependence, or past or present mental disorder;
    • is absent for the purpose of providing personal care to someone who needs such care by reason of old age, disablement, illness, past or present alcohol or drug dependence, or past or present mental disorder; and
  • it is used as a holiday home.

You should check the current list of exemptions if you own a home which you think could be at risk.

CPO

The most draconian power at a council’s discretion is to apply for a Compulsory Purchase Order in respect of an empty property. This would allow the council to forcibly purchase the property, paying the owner compensation.

Moving forward

The manner in which empty homes policies are enforced by councils may differ, and the policies may change over time. You should always keep in mind if you own a home that is not currently occupied that there is the risk that you will need to pay more council tax, should the council discover that it has been empty for more than two years.

If you do not believe you can benefit from one of the statutory exemptions which prevent the council applying for an EDMO, it would also be sensible to make sure that even if you are not ready to lease it or sell the property, you could be pressured to take action to do so by a local council.

 

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