Empty homes back in use

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Almost a quarter of homes identified as being empty but suitable for people to live in have been brought back into use less than a year since a new city council initiative got underway.

The council recruited an empty homes officer in summer 2017 to focus on this area of work. Using information from a variety of sources, including council tax records (around 450), topped up by reports from the public, just fewer than 1,100 potentially empty properties were identified.

So far, more than 800 of these have been visited to check their status. Investigations revealed that the vast majority were occupied, available for sale or let, or in the process of being refurbished.

This information can be often be gleaned from a simple drive past – a car on the drive, curtains in the window, bins out on collection day, or a for sale board in the garden, for example.

But 60 were identified as being properly empty with good prospects for being used again, and so far, 14 of these now have people living in them, be they owner-occupied or via the private rented market.

The council’s Private Sector Housing Development Manager, Tim Lovell, said bringing homes back into use is not always straightforward.

“We normally start off tracing owners via Land Registry records, but these typically show the person lives at the property, which is patently not the case.

“If a property owner is deliberately leaving their house empty, but in good repair with all bills paid, there is very little we can do. And in some situations, there are health issues that mean resolving a case is not easy.

“However, where we can get in touch with an owner and engage in meaningful dialogue, we can advise on options open to them, such as refurbishment loans or ways to resolve legal disputes.

“We’re a quarter of the way through the list of those we believe to be ‘doable’ and it’s very satisfying when you see a previously empty home back in use as a result of our intervention.

“It’s a good start, but there’s plenty more to do, and we’re hoping for more successes in the months ahead.

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