More than 100 empty properties have been brought back into use over the past year thanks to Bath & North East Somerset Council helping owners take action.
In one case a terraced cottage in Radstock, which had been left empty for more than 20 years and was causing serious damage to the neighbouring houses, is now being renovated after the council took action and tracked down its owner, who finally agreed to sell it and pay back a £35,600 repair bill.
The council’s work to address the problem of empty homes is being highlighted as part of National Empty Homes Week (23rd – 29th September).
Any empty property is a wasted housing resource, can become a real blight in the community and is a lost financial return to the owner.
Councillor Tim Ball, cabinet member for Housing, Planning and Economic Development, said: “Many empty homes have been inherited and the new owners, faced with bereavement and probate issues, often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility and cost of dealing with the property.
“As a result last year the council adopted a new approach in how it deals with empty homes. The new strategy ‘Taking Action on Empty Homes’, focuses on the issues preventing owners bringing these properties back into use and offering practical help and advice to overcome them.
“So far 108 empty properties have been brought back into use, providing much-needed homes across the district.”
Once an empty property has been identified, council officers offer to support and guide the owner through the process of bringing the property back into use by helping to manage and fund repairs, arranging house clearance or valuations.
Small Works Grants of up to £500 can also be awarded to cover things like planning pre-application costs, electrical surveys, safety certificates and clearance costs.
VAT reductions and exemptions on contracted works are available as well as Empty Property Loans of up to £30,000.
This same level of support is also offered to other empty property owners, such as those who have taken on a refurbishment project that has become too much of a challenge or older people who are in long term care and whose home is now empty and falling into disrepair.
Properties identified as being of the highest priority are subject to an Action Plan which allow for intensive, tailored help and support to be offered to the owner, the co-ordination of all council services involved with the case, coupled with a clear enforcement strategy where necessary.
Across Bath and North East Somerset, there are currently 724 properties that have been empty for more than six months, with 204 of them vacant for two years or more.
This new approach to working with empty property owners has just had one of its biggest successes to date.
In 2017 the council’s Housing Standards Team carried work to rebuild the roof of a dilapidated property in Radstock in that had been left empty for more than 20 years.
The enforcement action was taken because the owner was unwilling to take steps necessary to stop damage being caused to the adjoining home.
The cost of this work, combined with the outstanding council tax on the property, was then charged to the owner against the value of the property.
An Empty Property Action Plan was set up and the significant levels of support offered by the council’s empty property officer enabled the owner to bring the house to market and secure a sale without the need for further enforcement action.
Once completed, the proceeds of the sale not only repaid the debt to the local authority, but left the owner with money for savings.
The new owner is now working with the council to use the financial incentives available to help bring the house back into use as a rental property.
Leaving a property unoccupied isn’t against the law, however, if such a property becomes a nuisance to the local community or council tax debts are not being repaid and the owner refuses to engage with the council, enforcement action will be taken to bring it back into use.
The vast majority of empty properties in the district are brought back into use quickly without the need for intervention.
However, the council can only work to bring empty homes back into use if it knows about them. To report an empty home visit: http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/housing/no-use-empty.