Council Tackles Vacant Homes

Photo – Coventry Telegraph

The City Council has approved a new strategy to tackle vacant homes in the city. The Empty Dwellings Strategy 2021-2026 was approved by the City Council’s Cabinet on 31st August.

The new strategy replaces a strategy approved in 2014 and takes account of legislative changes in the meantime.

Coventry currently has around 1,661 long term empty dwellings, about 1.3% of the total number of dwellings, with 57% of these properties being empty for a considerable length of time. Empty homes can have a negative impact on the local neighbourhood, and encourage vandalism, anti-social activity and crime. At a time when there is a shortage of affordable homes in the city, this is also a wasted resource.

The strategy aims to:

  • Improve neighbourhoods and create better environments for local communities;
  • Reduce vandalism and anti-social behaviour;
  • Improve the health and wellbeing of communities and individuals;
  • Help meet housing need by providing additional housing options for the local community;
  • Ensure best use of assets;
  • Improve housing conditions;
  • Increase New Homes Bonus (which can be reinvested into the local area);
  • Increase Council Tax income and potentially increase spend on local goods and services from the occupants of formerly vacant dwellings;
  • Balance new build with the best use of existing stock; and
  • Increase income and capital value to homeowners and reduce the costs of council tax liability. 

The Council’s vision is to reduce the number of long-term vacant dwellings in Coventry to a practical minimum.  Three objectives have been developed to support this vision:- 

  • Objective 1 – To promote the range of advice, assistance and support available to bring vacant dwellings back into use and develop new solutions such as a Private Sector Leasing scheme;
  • Objective 2 – To use enforcement action in bringing long term problematic vacant dwellings back into use; and
  • Objective 3 – To better understand why dwellings are being left empty in the city and where possible prevent dwellings from becoming empty for long periods of time.

The strategy is focusing on properties that have remained vacant for more than six months. It is recognized that homes are often vacant for short periods due to the normal operation of the housing market.

The Council will appoint an Empty Dwellings Officer (EDO) who will lead the implementation of the strategy. A carrot and stick approach is being adopted with assistance and advice provided to property owners to enable properties to be let on a temporary basis to people in need of accommodation in the city and practical support.

The service includes pest control, garden clearances, house clearances, graffiti removal or removing sharps / needles. The team will go out to the property and give a quote for the works. If the owner wants the work to proceed, it is completed at a time to suit all parties. If the owner is not willing to work with the Council, then the EDO can arrange for the property to be cleared as ‘works in default’. Once the work is completed, a charge is placed on the property which will be paid when the property is sold.

Enforcement action is to be stepped up where the first approach is unsuccessful. The Council has many Regulatory powers that it can utilise in order to address the impact an empty property has on neighbours and the local area. With the legislation available the Council can serve a notice on the homeowner to ensure that these issues are addressed and in, turn, encourage the owner to bring the property back into use. Where all attempts of intervention have failed or if there is an immediate risk to health or safety, the EDO will consider a number of enforcement options that are available.

Enforcement options include various Public Health and Housing Act actions, Empty Dwelling Management Orders, Enforced Sales procedures and ultimately Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Alongside support and enforcement, the Council will also be introducing preventative action, including sending letters to property owners when the initial six month vacancy is approaching and when properties are approaching two year vacancy. The Council levies a 100% penalty Council Tax charge when properties are left vacant for two years. This rises to 200% after five years and 300% after ten years.  

The Coventry Society welcomes the new strategy and hopes that it will be implemented with determination. Vacant homes are of no use to anyone and can have a very damaging impact on a neighbourhood. The strategy should make a small, but welcome, contribution to meeting the shortage of affordable housing in the city.

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