If there’s one thing that really gets to me it’s the scandal of hundreds of thousands of empty homes around the country while so many families struggle to find somewhere affordable to live. We’re told that we need to build more properties to meet demand but if we dealt with the homes that are currently empty we would be doing far more good.
It’s not just a problem in Britain either. Right now there are 11 million empty homes across Europe – twice the number needed to house the homeless across the continent (there are 4.1 million homeless people in Europe). Wouldn’t you think we could have a European Directive to deal with that??
- Empty houses in Britain
- What you can do about the empty houses situation
- Money launderers use empty homes
There’s an insane number of houses lying empty across the UK. You can see the data by borough here.
In London, particularly in the astoundingly expensive borough of Kensington and Chelsea, there are FAR too many homes left empty. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has suggested that owners who do this should be heavily taxed. I totally agree.
In fact Boris has called for at least a tenfold increase in council tax for anyone who owns an empty home. He wants London boroughs to massively increase tax on property owners who allow their homes to be empty for over a year. Good on him. In fact I’m not the only one who thinks that. A vote on The Guardian newspaper showed overwhelming support for this idea.
Apparently Camden council in North London already charges 150% council tax rates on homes that have been empty for more than two years. But Boris wants a change in the law to enable councils to impose a punitive 1,000% rate on anyone who owns an empty home in their borough.
Now admittedly, overall, there’s a reduction of 27,242 in the number of long-term empty homes across England with the vast majority of areas seeing a decrease. But even so, the fact that there are so very many homes still lying empty while there are people everywhere needing affordable housing, is a disgrace.
There are a few things you can do if you are annoyed by (or interested in) an empty home near you.
- If you’ve noticed that the property has been empty for a few years you could start by putting a letter through the door saying you’re interested in buying it and could the owner contact you.
- Do a land registry search (£4 to do it online) to find out who owns this property. If it shows where they live then you could write to them and say you’re interested.
- Knock on doors around the house. See if neighbours have any idea who owns it or where they are. It’s possible that no one knows. It may have had someone in it who has died or went away and no one has any contacts for them or relatives.
- Contact your local authority and ask them to pass your details on to the owners. They are not allowed to give you their details but they can send yours on to them if you ask them.
- Get the council to do a ‘compulsory purchase’ where they get the place valued and then force the owner to sell it at that price. The council then sells it on through auction or other quick method which is often cheap.
- Get your council to follow Kent County Council’s project of No Use Empty where they have worked with locals and provided money to get empty properties back into use again (why aren’t more councils doing this?)
- Do what this woman does and set up a business working with councils and owners of empty homes to persuade them to let her do them up and rent them out. It’s a long process but it means the properties are used and you can have a business.
- In some cases, where a property has been empty for a long time, if you know (after doing your research) that the owner is uncontactable and that they seem to have no relatives or even friends around who would lay claim to the house, you could use the law of Adverse Possession and just move into it. If you manage to stay there (i.e. squat) for ten years then you legally own it. It’s a risky way to go as someone could come in out of nowhere one day and lay claim to it, but if you are able to stay there for a full ten years you could find yourself buying a run-down property that can be done up and sold for much, much more.
Paul Palmer at Emptyhomesuk says that his company helps individuals and councils find and develop empty properties around Corby and the Midlands. They can help people find out about Government grants for bringing back empty properties into use, how to find a list of empty properties in the UK and how to find out who owns an empty property.
Having been a housing officer with a local council, Palmer is very knowledgeable about empty homes, particularly those in London where he used to work. “The really expensive empty homes in places like Kensington & Chelsea are often because of money-laundering.” he says. “It’s big crime gangs that buy a place, often way above its proper value, then they just leave it there and wait for the price to go up over time. I think that if they really want to stop this happening they should tax them an amount equal to the price gain each year. Then they’d lose all the profit and sell it on.”
So, if you know of a posh house or flat that has been empty for a couple of years or more, do a bit of digging. It may be something that Scotland Yard should know about. That really would be doing a good deed!