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Empty Homes Enforcement Policy

1.0 Introduction

The Council is committed to bringing long term empty homes back into use in Plymouth.
This policy will ensure the Council’s empty homes enforcement programme is robust and transparent and clearly sets out what enforcement action is appropriate to take as well as the timescales in which it should be taken.
Long term empty properties are a wasted resource as the City has a high demand for housing of all kinds. As of January 2022 there were 9186 households registered with the Council in need of affordable housing at a time when there are 1463 empty dwellings in the City, of which 670 have been empty for over 6 months.

2.0 The Impact of Empty Properties

Empty properties have a detrimental impact on the built environment and can severely affect the value of neighbouring homes as well as the wider neighbourhood. They often attract fly tipping, vermin, vandalism, squatters, burglars, arsonists and they can also lead to damp ingression in neighbouring properties often causing nuisance and stress to the occupants.
These issues often require intervention from the Council, Police and Fire Service putting additional strain on resources and incurring costs that may not be recovered from the owners.
The Council always offers support and advice to empty home owners to help them bring their empty property back into use. However, when the officer’s best efforts fail to bring about a voluntary solution, the Council has a duty to act to ensure properties do not remain empty indefinitely.
Properties that remain empty in the long term are most likely to cause problems. It is for this reason that this policy focuses on properties that have been empty for one year or more.
In the first instance we will identify empty properties and engage with the owners. Advice and assistance is offered in all cases, however if all avenues are exhausted, we will proceed with enforcement action.

3.0 Identifying the Priority Properties for Empty Homes Enforcement Action

When prioritising empty homes enforcement action, to ensure the action to be taken is both fair and transparent, the attached Appendix 1 assessment matrix should be applied.
The aim of this assessment process is to ensure that those properties which are creating most issues to the community are addressed first.

4.0 Identifying the Best Course of Action

The main aim of using empty homes enforcement is to bring about the re-use of the property using the most appropriate powers.
There are several ways in which this can be achieved with some methods being more effective than others, depending on the particular circumstances of the case. It is therefore important that the bigger picture is taken into consideration prior to embarking on the first stages of enforcement.
The considerations listed below must be taken into account prior to deciding whether
enforcement is appropriate:

  • Whether the empty home owner has been offered all means of available help and support.
  • If enforcement action is not taken, will the property remain empty?
  • Whether the property in its present state is having a detrimental effect on neighbours, neighbouring properties and the environment.
  • If there is sufficient evidence on file to demonstrate that enforcement action is justified.
  • Whether there are any risks to the Council in taking enforcement action that outweighs the benefit to the community.
  • Whether there are any risks to the owner in taking enforcement action that outweighs the benefit to the community

If having considered these points, it is decided that enforcement is an appropriate action, it should commence without delay.
Using the correct type of enforcement action is a key factor in ensuring a successful outcome. Table 1 sets out the legislation that the Council will use and by whom, when dealing with problems that frequently occur if a property is left empty.
The enforcement tools set out in Table 1 will not necessarily result in empty homes being
returned to use. However, the use of these tools will help to tackle the short term issues associated with empty homes. Regardless of whether the owner complies with the notices set out in Table 1, the use of this statutory action provides evidence should the enforcement action set out in Table 2 become necessary.

Table 1

Dealing with empty properties in the short term

ProblemLegislation/ Who deals with itPower Granted
Dangerous or dilapidated buildings or structures.Building Act 1984:Sections
77 and 88

Building Control Team
A Section 77 notice requires the owner to make a building safe.

A Section 78 notice allows the Council to take
emergency action to make a building safe.
Unsecured properties where there is a potential risk that it may be entered or suffer vandalism, arson etc. Building Act 1984: Section 78
Building Control Team Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions)

Act 1982: Section 29 Environmental Protection Team
A Section 78 allows the Council to secure a

A Section 29 notice requires the owner to secure the property and it allows the Council to board up the property in an emergency.
Vermin - where vermin are present or where there is a risk of attracting vermin that may detrimentally affect people’s health.Public Health Act 1961:
Section 34

Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949: Section 4
Public Health Act 1936: Section 83

Environmental Protection Team Building Act 1984 Section 76 Building Control Team
To require the owner to remove waste so that vermin are not attracted to the site; to destroy infestation; and to remove accumulation prejudicial to health.

Best implemented if an enforced sale using the Law of Property Act 1925 is to be used at a later date.
Unsightly land and property affecting the amenity of an area.Town and Country Planning Act 1990: Section 215

Planning Consents and Compliance Team/Housing Delivery Team
Requires the owner to take steps to address a property adversely affecting the amenity of an area through its disrepair.
Empty property causing problems within the community.Community Protection Notices

Part 4 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

Legal Services (Safer Communities)/Housing Delivery Team
Requires the owner to take action to prevent the empty property from causing a nuisance within the community

N.B. The above list is sufficient to deal with immediate issues regarding empty property and is not intended to be a full list of available legislation that could be used in certain circumstances.
The types of enforcement action that can be used to bring empty homes back into use are set out in Table 2. The empty home owner will be informed in writing of the action that is to be taken prior to the commencing of enforcement proceedings.
All officers undertaking the enforcement action set out in Table 2 will be fully trained and competent to do so. Officers will take the appropriate action as promptly and efficiently as possible to minimise delays. Decisions relating to CPO and other forms of legal action will be approved politically by the Portfolio Holder and by Cabinet where required.

Table 2

Bringing long term empty properties back into use- longer term options

ProblemLegislation/Who deals with itPower Granted
Council tax debts of £1,000 or more on an empty property.Charging Order/Order of Sale using the Charging Orders Act 1979

Customer Service Team/Legal Services. The Housing Delivery Team will ask the Customer Service Team to instruct Legal Services to apply to the court for an Order of Sale
An order obtained from the court to enable the Council to sell the empty property and recover the council tax debt and staff costs.
Debts of £300 or more owed to the Council resulting from non-payment for work carried out in default of legal noticesEnforced Sale using the Law of Property Act 1925: Section 103

The Housing Delivery Team/Legal Team
Allows the Council to sell the property to recover the debt and staff costs. The
Council’s charge takes priority over mortgages and private debts.
Poorly maintained empty property that requires updating to make it available for letting.Empty Dwelling Management Orders using the Housing Act 2004 Part 4: Sections 132-138 & Schedule 7

The Housing Delivery Team/Legal Services
Allows the Council to take over the management of an empty property, repair/renovate it and let it out to recover costs.
Problem property poorly maintained and for all intents and purposes abandonedCompulsory Purchase Orders using the Housing Act 1985: Section 17

The Housing Delivery Team/Legal Services
Allows the Council to purchase the property and sell it on for development
for housing purposes.

5.0 Summary

When providing support to an empty home owner has failed to bring a property back into use, it is important that the Council can take appropriate and timely action against the owner to resolve the issue. There is no single solution that will solve every problem associated with empty properties. There is a wide range of interventions and statutory powers available and each property is assessed on a case by case basis. Enforcement is always a last resort, however the Council will pursue this course of action if all other options have been exhausted and the property is causing nuisance within the community.

6.0 Appendix

Appendix 1

Assessment Matrix

Length of Time Vacant6 months – 2 years
2 – 5 years
More than 5 years
AppearanceMinor disrepair
Major disrepair
Dangerous StructureNo
Likely with further deterioration
Overgrown GardenNo
Question the scale here…
Saleable in present condition
Needs some improvement/repair
Needs substantial renovation
Not repairable at reasonable cost
Social impactPhysical impact on neighbouring properties
Incidents of fly tipping
Infestation of vermin
Incident of squatters
Associated with ASB
Incidents of arson/fire
Previous EH actionNo
Special InterestLocated in a Conversation Area
Listed Building
Debts owed to PCC<£500
Owner’s AttitudeWilling and compliant
Some cooperation or compliance
Non-compliant/uncooperative/not known
OwnershipContactable and responsive
Contactable but not responsive
Not contactable/not able to trace

Appendix 2

Principles for Enforcement to bring Empty Property back into use

This Policy aims to bring long term empty properties back into use. The enforcement action used to do this will be based on the Government’s Enforcement Concordat, which “aims to protect the public, the environment and groups such as consumers and workers.” The following principles will be adhered to;

  • Openness – we will aim to be transparent in all that we do
  • Helpfulness – we will explore all avenues of help prior to taking any enforcement action and provide information about planned enforcement to ensure any implications are documented
  • Proportionality – we will ensure that the enforcement action taken is proportionate to the risks
  • Consistency - we will ensure each case is treated equally and fairly and tested against the same criteria
  • Human Rights Act 1998 – we will ensure that all rights of individuals and the community are protected

Appendix 3

All staff must follow the Nolan Principles of working;

  1. Selflessness
    Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
  2. Integrity
    Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
  3. Objectivity
    Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
  4. Accountability
    Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
  5. Openness
    Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
  6. Honesty
    Holders of public office should be truthful.
  7. Leadership
    Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor
    behaviour wherever it occurs.

The Seven Principles of Public Life - GOV.UK (