About the Empty Homes Project
North Devon Council will strategically plan and deliver housing provision to meet local needs. Working with our partners, we will take the action necessary to tackle the widening imbalance in supply and demand.
The Empty Homes Project is one of a suite of projects that fall under the umbrella of North Devon Council’s Housing and Community Safety Programme, developed to identify the key housing priorities for the Council and measures required to deliver them.
This comprehensive and ambitious Empty Homes Strategy is a key action within the programme along with a commitment to tackle long-term empty properties, adopting a new approach, which also complements our Private Sector Housing Renewal Strategy.
What is an empty home?
A property which has been empty for in excess of six months is considered to be a long term empty property. The Housing Act 2004 strengthened Council powers, although Councils have a number of legislative controls across other services too.
Why are properties being left empty?
It is important to recognise that not all empty homes are a major problem, there are often good reasons for properties being left empty, for example they can be empty between a change of occupants, they are for sale, or they are undergoing refurbishment. However, there are increasing numbers of empty homes and properties that are problematic which are left empty for longer than is reasonable. This is particularly acute during a time where there are fewer properties for sale on the housing market.
We know there are approximately 140 domestic properties that have been empty for more than two years in North Devon.
Reasons a property may be left empty
- the owner may be unwilling to consider leasing or letting the property
- the owner may be temporarily working abroad and intends to live in the property in the future
- the owner may not be aware of the property’s existence, for example where accurate property records are not kept
- unresolved ownership matters, for example following the death of an owner
- the owner may not fully appreciate the financial benefit of bringing their empty property back into use
- the owner may have acquired the property solely for speculative investment purposes and be unconcerned that the property is empty
- the owner may be a development company, with plans for its future redevelopment
- the property may be joined to a business property and the business owner does not want to let it
- the owner may be in hospital or care
- the property may be in need of major repairs or renovation and the owner may not have the financial resource to make it habitable
- there may be problems with accessing the property
- there may be planning constraints which restrict the occupancy of the property
- the property has been repossessed
The benefits of bringing empty properties back into use
Empty homes are a wasted resource, they can lead to complaints from neighbours and can cost owners a lot of money to maintain and insure. Bringing an empty property back into use not only relieves the stress of worrying about maintaining the property, it also has a number of other benefits including:
- increasing the provision of much needed homes
- generating additional income for the owner
- contributing to the regeneration of an area
- increasing spend in the local economy
- potentially increasing the market value of surrounding properties
- reducing the risk of crime and anti-social behaviour at the property
- reducing the need to build new homes in the area
The consequences of leaving a property empty
Some properties remain empty, fall into disrepair and can become a blight on the neighbourhood. Despite the reasons why a property could remain empty, without intervention there can be consequences:
- increased risk of crime and anti-social behaviour such as vandalism, drugs or squatting
- increased risk of complaints from neighbours
- reduction in the value of the empty property and potentially of others within the area
- increased need to build new properties
- reduced investment and spending in the local economy
- an unattractive visual amenity in an otherwise attractive neighbourhood
By supporting the repair, improvement, adaptation or conversion of empty properties to bring them back into use as homes, we aim to:
- reduce the number of long term empty homes in North Devon
- increase the housing supply
- tackle empty property nuisance issues
We have identified four strategic priorities, each with a number of key actions, which we aim to deliver. The four strategic priorities to bring empty properties back into use are to:
- Provide information, advice, help and support through opportunities and incentives to owners of empty properties
- Proactively engage and work with owners of long term empty properties
- Improve our neighbourhoods by targeting empty properties that have become the focus of anti-social behaviour and/or neglect
- Develop effective partnerships with key stakeholders.