Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Empty homes regulations – threat or blessing?

Local Authorities are shortly to get new powers to take over empty properties and rent them out to homeless families. Some press reports have greeted this with outrage, as the regulations apparently state that properties in good condition which have only been lying empty for six months can be repossessed.

For example a report in the Telegraph on 17 June points out that bereaved families may be at risk if family homes are not sold within six months, which may be a bit difficult as it can sometimes take much longer than this to sort out probate and the administration of a deceased persons estate. A more alarmist report in the Daily Mail has the headline "Homes of the dead to be seized by the state". Tory housing spokesman Michael Gove is even claiming (according to the Mail) that it could be "a stealthy new form of inheritance tax".

However in fact it is most unlikely that the bereaved will visit their family home seven months after father died, to find the local authority has broken in and let it to homeless families – a scenario implied by the various reports in the press. Indeed the Telegraph report itself states towards the bottom "A spokesman for Ms Kelly denied that the powers would be used to seize homes inherited by relatives. If the issue was not resolved in discussion with the council, he said, it would go to a tribunal".

But is the local authority taking over a property really such a bad thing for property owners? For example in Tower Hamlets, they are handing out grants in an effort to bring substandard empty properties back into use. In Walthamstow some flats have already been offered to tenants on the Councils waiting list after refurbishment funded largely by the authority.

Some people I have spoken to consider that the new rules will not be much used, as Local Authorities will not want the expense and hassle of taking over and running someone else’s property. Clearly though not all Local Authorities will think this way, as can be seen from another report from Swindon, Wiltshire.

We shall have to wait and see whether the regulations turn out to be a threat to bereaved families or a blessing to impecunious property owners.

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