Council says it does not use full powers against empty homes as legal fight is too costly

Katherine Johnston (13 April, 2018) Housing

Southwark council has never issued an empty dwelling management order

Southwark Council says it has not fully used its powers to take over empty homes because the legal fight is too costly.

According to a freedom of information request from the Liberal Democrats, Southwark Council has never issued an empty dwelling management order.

Empty dwelling management orders (EDMOs) allow councils forcibly to lease a property for seven years, encouraging absentee owners to put the homes to good use.

The council said it had not used the powers due to cost – although the Liberal Democrats believe that expenses incurred in issuing these orders are recouped once the home is let out again.

Although the council has not used any empty dwelling orders, it has slapped Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) on some vacant homes, as well as working with owners on other solutions.

A council spokesperson told the News: “Over the past three years, Southwark Council has brought a total of 125 units back into use.

“Options have ranged from funding assistance, advice and information that led to owners redeveloping or selling their properties, as well as the council providing leasing options for landlords.

“CPOs have historically been the preferred legal option over EDMOs due to the cost involved in the works to bring long-term problematic empty properties back into use.

“Within the EDMO framework councils can lease a property for a maximum of seven years, funding therefore must be recouped within that timeframe, including any additional cost such as management fees.

“The process often involves years of casework history in order to encourage owners to bring their empty properties back into use.

“CPO action is therefore considered a very last resort where all attempts fail or where an owner is untraceable, for example.

“Southwark Council has not taken any legal action on any empty properties in the past three years, or used any empty property management orders.

“However, in the past ten years, Southwark Council has obtained five confirmed CPOs on four properties and one vacant site.

“Out of the five, three of these orders led to successful acquisitions.

“The reuse of the remaining two properties was secured by mutual agreement which meant that the CPO order was not enforced in these cases.”

Data collected by the Lib Dems shows in the last five years some local authorities have used the orders to force homes to be re-let, including Rochdale, which placed orders of 22 homes, Dorset which used the powers on 24 homes, and South Tyneside, with 16 properties.

But nationally take-up has been low with councils exercising the power being the exception, rather than the rule and in London, no in London, no councils have used the empty dwelling management orders in the last five years.

In 2011, when the length of time a home must have been empty for an order to be used was increased from six months to two years, making it much harder for councils to collect proof the properties were continually empty.

Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, Leader of the Southwark Liberal Democrats, said: “There are almost 6,000 homes sitting empty in Southwark. More than Lewisham, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets put together.

“789 are council properties and the council needs to get its own house in order urgently.

“In Tower Hamlets it takes three weeks to re-let a council home. In Southwark it takes four months.

“The council could also get private empty homes back into use. It has the powers – with Empty Dwelling Orders – to do something.

“These allow the council to take over an empty property, renovate and rent it out, using the rental income to cover their costs.

“Southwark Council hasn’t issued a single Empty Dwelling Order. Or they can use Compulsory Purchase Orders where they buy the property from the landlord and rent it out.”

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