Tackling empty properties
Empty properties are a waste of scarce resources, whilst also contributing to urban decline. They are linked with, and contribute to, a range of associated problems such as:
- A reduction in capital value of the empty property, and neighbouring properties,
- An increased rate of deterioration and decline in the fabric of the building,
- An increased vulnerability to vandalism, squatting and anti-social behaviour, and neighbourhood blight.
The council has a new five-year strategy to tackle empty properties across our borough to utilise a wasted resource and reduce the impact of empty homes on surrounding communities. This includes an ambitious plan to bring back into use 200 privately owned empty homes, to offer incentives through advice and financial loans, as well as to utilise a broad set of powers to engage with owners and to reduce the impact of derelict empty properties on communities in Sandwell.
The ‘200 homes’ plan
The Council has identified empty properties as one of its key priority areas in relation to Private Rented and Owner-Occupied housing. The priority to be given to Empty Properties that have been established by the government as a means of assessing and bench marking the progress made by council’s in dealing with empty homes.
Over the course of the strategy the council intends to bring back into use 200 long-term empty domestic properties that can be used for housing families in Sandwell.
‘Off the starting block’ loans
Empty property loans will be available in certain circumstances where financial difficulties are preventing them from being able to make their empty property safe to live in again.
The loans will be limited and subject to council discretion on a case-by-case basis against the merits of each individual situation. Loans will be subject to a legally binding agreement to bring the property back into use.
Repair and make good
It is important that empty properties are properly managed and that renovations take place in a timely manner to bring the property back into use. The council will work with owners to advise and offer support in doing this, however where owners fail to engage, the council will use enforcement powers to ensure properties are managed. Where properties are an eye-sore or in a condition where occupation is not yet possible, the council will enforce repair work and visual improvements.
Bringing properties back into use
In some cases, where assistance has been refused or dismissed, where renovation work has not been forthcoming and other enforcement options have been exhausted or discounted, the council may use further powers to take control or ownership of empty properties to bring them back into use.
Empty property definition
The council defines an empty property as a domestic home demonstrably left empty for six-months or more and a long-term empty property where it has been left empty for two or more years for no reasonable reason.
There are also factors that may elevate an empty property case, such as where the property is left unmanaged and is visibly deteriorating.
Where domestic properties are empty but there is a reasonable cause, the council may decide that there is no requirement to undertake enforcement action.
Possible elevating factors may include:
- Dangerous structures.
- Visibly uninhabitable property (roof/windows missing).
- The ground floor doors or windows being open to access from directly from the highway.
- Statutory nuisance to neighbouring properties (damp penetration).
- Continued demonstrable visible deterioration of the building and lands.
The decision as to whether a case requires enforcement action is taken on a case-by-case basis on the merits of each case.
Possible exemptions may include:
- The occupier is in prison for a short-period of time.
- The occupier is away with work.
- The occupier is on an extended leave or travelling with a view to return.
- The occupier is in hospital/short-term care.
- The occupier is temporarily residing elsewhere due to a short-term commitment or reasonable situation.
- The occupier is away for another legitimate reasonable reason (the council will make considerations on a case-by-case basis).
- The council is unable to prove the property is empty.
The council may still take some action to bring a property back into use or enforce works even if the above circumstances are in place where the property is not reasonably managed, where the situation has been ongoing for an unreasonable time or where disrepair is impacting on neighbours.
The council will assess each case on its merits and will decide if a case requires enforcement action or not. The council cannot always divulge the reasoning behind decisions on enforcement cases to the public because of data protection laws.
You can find out more about how we tackle empty homes by reading our Empty Property Strategy
If you have any concerns about empty properties in your area, you can email us at PrivateSector_Housing@Sandwell.gov.uk, by completing the ‘contact us’ form below, or by reporting to us through your My Sandwell Account under Private Sector Housing.