HELP! Tools available to bring derelict empty home back into use

Hello, following the departure of our empty homes officer the work of dealing with empty homes has been passed to us in Planning Enforcement.

We are currently dealing with a mid terrace empty property which has suffered fire damage to the first floor. It has been empty for a while now and whilst the owner is corresponding with us he has not taken any action to bring the property back into use and claims there is a dispute with the insurance company over the fire. We are currently under a lot of pressure from neighbours and local councillors to get this property sorted however the exterior of the property is not in a condition to warrant S215 action.

What other tools are available to us to bring the property back into use please?

Many Thanks

Charlotte & Abbey

 

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Hi Ladies,

Under the Housing Act 2004, you can serve POE under s239 to gain access in order to carry out an inspection under HHSRS. Following the inspection you can serve the appropriate notice to deal with the hazards found ie, improvement Notice, Prohibition Order, Demolition Order etc.

If the owner fails to comply with the Notice served you then have the power to go in and do Works in default, which creates a charge (secured by LLC) and you can then enforce the sale of the property in order to re-coup your debt.

hope this helps a little

Helen Stevens

Empty Property Officer

Arun  District Council

There are a number of pieces of legislation available to councils, the Housing Act has already been mentioned.  The legislation directly available to yourselves is dependent on the delgated powers.  As Planners you may not have the same delegated powers that are delgated to Environmental Health and Building Control officers.  You may need to work with your colleagues in these services to arrage for enforcement action to be taken. 

Having the delegated powers or helpful colleagues is only half the battle.  Another very important tool in the armoury is a budget for carying our work in default.  Without this, the only option open to you is prosecution, which may result in the property being sold, but in my experince can often lead to a lot of court time for very little reward.  A good work in default budget will allow you to carry out work in default of the owner.  The importance of this is you can enforce the sale of the property at auction should the owner fail to pay the debt, the larger the debt the more likely they are to default on it.  In my experience, properties sold at auction rarely remain empty so a useful tool to recover costs and also get properties brought back into use.  We work with coucil tax so also recover any outstanding council tax. 

In order to take action there are a number of pieces of legislation available however, what is avaialbe to you in this specific case is dependent on the condition of the property.  If I have read your comments correctly, there is no external signs of the fire, which may exclude the use of Sec215 of the Town and Country Planning Act or Sec79 of the Building Act.  I say may, because there may be ways around this depending upon discussions with the owner.  Without knowing more about the condition of the property and any damage sustained in the fire, it is difficult to pinpoint specific legislation.  In dealing with empty properties you have to keep an open mind and a very flexible approach in the use of available legislation.  You should always utilise the Ways and Means Act 2020, it is dated 2020 because it has been used extensively this year and is updated and redated with new ways and means around things everytime it is used.  It allows you to get things done within the fuzzy boundaries of the available legislation. 

Some pieces of legistlation that can be used to get charges reigstered follows, but their use depends on the condition of the property, so things you can look for:

  • are there any accumulations of houshold waste around the property, any droppings, gnawing or smearing?, if so you may be able to serve a notice under Section 4 of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 (PDPA);
  • is there any damaged or defective rainwater goods around the premises?, if so you may be able to serve notice under Section 59 of the Building Act 1984
  • are there any broken windows to upper floors, or holes in the roof allowing pigoens to roost?, if so this may be causing a nuisance to neighbouring properties, if so you may be able to serve notice under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA).
  • is there any damp in adjacent properties reulsting from conditions at the vacatn property?, if so you may be able to serve notice under the EPA.

The above may be useful pathways you can use, allowing limited work to deal with relatively minor issues, in a relatively short time, but which can result in land charges being registered.  The land charges can be used for enforcing the sale of the property if the owner fails to pay them.

I have dealt with a similar scenario to this one, so I can advise you that it may be worth you liaising with your colleages in Building Control, who can ustilise Section 77 and 78 of the Building Act.  In the case I dealt with, although there appeared to be little evidence of external damage, I did notice a saggging along the roof line.  A joint visit with Building Control identified sufficient structural damage to the roof timbers to warrant removing part of the roof structure to make it safe and prevent collapse, which would have caused further damage to the empty property and also the the roof of the adjoining semi.

This work allowed me to serve further notice under Section 79 of the Building Act requiring works to reinstate the roof.  I got the owner into the office prior to service of that notice to discuss it with them and by explaining it to them they were happy for the council to take this course of action.  They didn't have the means to carry out the work themselves so I was able to get them to agree to almost anything as it was helping them out of a hole they couldn't get out of themselves.  I did bring them to the realisation of that point, i.e. that they were in a hole they couldn't get out of.  They had two options on completion of the works: either agree a repayment plan; or sell the property and we would recieve our costs from the sale.  They preferred the first option however, while waiting for the notice to expire, the owner informed us that they had been approached by a potential buyer who is offering them a price they wanted to accept.  The property was sold and the works were carreid out by the new owner, who now lives in the property. 

When it comes to dealing with empty properties you will need to forget the fact that you are planners and be prepared to push the boundaries and use a lot of cunning and elastic tirckery whilst working within the sometimes fuzzy confines of the legislation to bring about a resolution.

Of course, there is one option open to us all and that is CPO.  That is a process as a planner you may be aware of so you know what is involved and whether this is the correct option to use.

Should you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact me direct on the number below.

I accept no responsibility for gramatical or spelling errors.  I didn't proof read this and I have fat fingers.

Regards

Terry Curnow I Principal Officer
Vacant Property Team I Housing & Development I

Liverpool City Council I 4th Floor I Cunard Building I Water Street I Liverpool I L3 1AH
T: 0151 233 5208 I E: terry.curnow@liverpool.gov.uk

   

Terry Curnow

Liverpool City Council