Measures to speed up bringing empty properties back into use to help address a shortage of housing are being considered by Bath and North East Somerset Council.
The authority is looking at a raft of actions including early intervention on empty properties, the use Community Protection Notices and formal warning letters to owners of nuisance properties.
It is also proposing targeted action on empty properties which could be used as affordable rented housing and providing more support for owners to prevent properties slipping into long-term non-use.
The demand for housing in the area is high and empty homes are a wasted asset. Empty properties left to deteriorate can quickly fall into disrepair causing real problems for both the immediate neighbours and the wider community. Currently there are 587 properties that have been empty for more than six months with 153 of them empty for two years or more.
Councillor Paul Myers, (Conservative, Midsomer Norton Redfield) cabinet member for economic and community regeneration, is being asked to approve the updated Empty Homes Policy.
Councillor Myers said: “Increasing the supply of local housing is one of our top priorities, and bringing disused or empty properties back into use can play an important role in this.
“This new policy therefore aims to speed up the process so we can quickly bring more empty properties back into use. The current Empty Homes Policy was adopted in 2013 and focussed on properties that had been empty for two years or more. Since it was adopted, 317 of these long-term empty properties have been brought back into use with almost a third of them, 98, brought back into use over the past two years. These figures represent good progress on this issue, but we want to go further still, which is why this new policy seeks to give the Council the additional tools needed to help bring even more empty properties back into use.”
A report before the cabinet member says a majority of the shorter term empty properties will be bought back into use without the need for intervention, but by offering support and advice early on, the Council can help empty property owners who are overwhelmed with the issues of dealing with an empty property.
The policy also seeks to use Community Protection Notices (CPN) and formal warning letters to force engagement with owners of nuisance empty properties. The report says CPNs are being used with good effect by other local authorities to tackle problem empty homes, who report a 95% success rate in terms of engagement and compliance.
The council’s Empty Property officer and the Council Tax Service will identify and investigate council tax fraud such as the wrongful claim of Single Persons Discount, and non-payment of the Empty Property Premium. And the council is also considering targeted action on empty properties that can be used for affordable rented housing. This would be done through identifying suitable properties and grant funding for registered housing providers to acquire properties, with appropriate enforcement action to ensure the sale if needed.
Empty properties that are the cause of nuisance or significant complaint or are considered as an appropriate addition to the affordable housing supply will be prioritised and action plans created for each so resourced and officer time can be effectively targeted at the highest priority cases.