Hundreds of homes are back in use
Hundreds of empty houses in Bassetlaw have been brought back into use thanks to a mixture of detective work, enforcement action and a lot of perseverance by Bassetlaw District Council.
For the last two years, the Council’s Housing Standards Team has been targeting houses that have been empty for two years or more and, thanks to this direct action, 168 formerly unused properties are now being lived in again.
Just some of the reasons that homes can become unlived in for a prolonged period of time include; relatives inheriting a property and not knowing what to do with it, the owner not having the money to make repairs or maintain the property, second homes that have fallen into disrepair, the owner passing away with no known relatives or properties that are locked in probate.
In the majority of cases, Council Officers have worked with the owners and landlords to bring the properties back into use, with enforcement action only accounting for a small number of cases. However, the spectrum of homes that have been addressed range from flats and terraced houses to luxury new-build properties with swimming pools.
Cllr Steve Scotthorne, Cabinet Member for Housing at the Council, said: “There are many reasons and situations why some homes can remain empty for years at a time. But we have a very small team of officers who are working hard to address this issue.”
“Bringing empty homes back into use is extremely important, especially as it can help to prevent homelessness, allow families to make their first step on the housing ladder and rid communities of buildings that have become an eyesore.
“Enforcement is always the last resort and we have found that this approach has been the most successful way of bringing homes back into use. We’ve only had to make one enforced sale in last 18 months and in the majority of cases, we work with the owner to bring a property back into use and guide them through the process and unlock any funding available to them.
“There are currently around 200 properties that we are still working with that have been empty for two years or more, with hundreds more that have been empty for six months or more. We would love to bring even more properties back into use but the harsh reality is the Council has very limited resources that we are able to devote to bringing empty properties back into use.
Long-term empty properties can be identified by a number of means, including; complaints from members of the public, non-payment of Council Tax and properties that are paying a premium of 50% extra Council Tax - which shows that the property has been empty for two years or more.
In order to bring a home back into use, the process starts with an external inspection of the property, Officers speaking to neighbours and attempting to identify the owner through the Land Registry, Council Tax records or information from third parties.
Once the Council has been able to trace the owners of the property, Officers will write to them and set out a number of available options. For example, a reduction on VAT for renovations, information and advice on letting the property, the offer of tenancy management through A1 Housing (the Council’s ALMO) or access to an Empty Homes Grant of up to £12k. This letter also warns of the potential enforcement action that could take place.
The initial letter also includes a Questionnaire of Intent to find out what may be happening with the building. If there is no response within 14 days, a second letter will be sent which reminds the owner of the options available to them. It also reminds the owner of the legislative tools and enforcement action that the Council is able to take which ranges from issuing fines through to an enforced sale of the property.
Should there be no response to a second letter, and if it is needed, the Council is able to complete ‘works under fault’ to take care of any urgent work that may be required if the building is detrimental to the community, for example, pests and vermin or overgrown gardens, or problems that could be potentially dangerous.
In doing so, this places a land charge on the property, which means that if the debt is not settled or the owner still fails to contact the Council, it becomes possible to make an enforced sale to recover the costs and place the remaining funds in an Empty Homes fund. This is held for a period of 12 years and should it not be claimed by the owner, is put into Government funds.