Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is today bringing an end to heavy handed rules that can mean people who leave their house empty for more than six months risk having it seized by their local authority.
In 2006, the previous Government introduced ‘Empty Dwelling Management Orders’. They allow councils to take over properties that have been empty for as little as six months.
- the home does not have to be blighted or boarded up to be taken over, just empty for six months - including homes of the deceased
- councils have the right to seize furniture, fixtures and fittings, when the home is taken over, including where the home has been left empty for a period after the owner has died
- homes already on the property market can be seized if councils believe the asking price is “unrealistic”.
In order to protect civil liberties, Mr Pickles is today introducing powerful safeguards to restrict the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders.
- they will be limited to empty properties that have become magnets for vandalism, squatters and other forms of anti-social behaviour - blighting the local neighbourhood
- a property will have to stand empty for at least two years before an Empty Dwelling Management Order can be obtained, and property owners will have to be given at least three months’ notice before the order can be issued.
Mr Pickles is concerned that councils have used the Orders to instigate action against homeowners that is inappropriate, including against people in vulnerable situations. Councils have, for example, attempted to use the powers against a homeowner whilst she was caring for her injured daughter in France; to take over an Order being used against the house of a 96 year old as soon as he passed away in a nursing home; and against a divorcee, who faced action because he only lived in the property at weekends to visit his estranged children.
These new safeguards will ensure that responsible homeowners do not face having their properties seized. Mr Pickles said it is wrong that a bereaved family could face having their loved one’s home seized for a period if there is a delay in them deciding what to do with it.
The move comes as the Government prepares to introduce wider plans to bring back into use many of the 300,000 properties in England that have been empty for a long period of time.
From next year, councils will have a new incentive to bring empty properties back into use through a New Homes Bonus, under which the Government will match the council tax raised from any council tax collected from a property that previously stood empty.
Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, said:
There is a case for action to put boarded-up and blighted properties back into use. But these draconian and heavy-handed state powers have allowed councils to seize private homes in perfect condition, including their fixtures and fittings, just because the homes have been empty for a short while.
The Coalition Government is standing up for the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. Fundamental human rights include the right to property. People suffering the loss of a loved one should not have to endure the added indignity of having their home seized because of a delay in them deciding what to do with it.
That’s why the new Government is introducing new safeguards that mean the rights of responsible homeowners will be protected, while allowing action to be taken against genuine derelict buildings which blight neighbourhoods.
Notes to editors
1. The Government will use secondary legislation to introduce safeguards that restrict the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders 2006, and will be engaging with interested parties on the extent of the changes.
2. In 2006, the previous Government introduced new ‘Empty Dwelling Management Orders’ (EDMO) that give town halls the power to take over the management of private homes which have been empty for as little as six months.
There are two types of EDMO - an interim EDMO which lasts for a year during which time the local authority must try to work with the owner to get the property back into use. If no agreement is reached the local authority can make a final EDMO which can last for up to seven years.
The home does not have to be run down or uninhabitable to be seized, merely empty for six months.
Homes of the deceased can be confiscated for up to seven years, even if inheritance issues are not yet finalised. The regulations allow for the home of a deceased person to be seized at any point after six months from the ‘grant of representation’ (the proof of legal authority allowing a personal representative to start administering an estate).
The council is not obliged to obtain a market rent, but in most cases can still deduct all their running costs from the rent.
Tenants in the home still have contractual and legal rights of occupancy, making it more difficult to return the property to the owner if the Order is revoked.
3. In guidance issued in 2009, the previous Government called for local authorities to make use of these powers. The guidance can be found at http://www.emptyhomes.com/usefulresources/edmos.html.
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