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Ghost homes: why are properties empty?

According to a recent report released by UpMyStreet, privately-owned properties that have been vacant for more than six months are on the rise. And we get the usual stuff about it being a sad sight, attracting pests, crime etc., and devaluing neighbourhood and all that jazz.

So, why does it happen?

The facts
Figures released by the Halifax Empty Homes in England Survey showed that between April 2003 – 2008, the number of long-term empty properties has risen above 300,000. The North West has the highest number of vacant properties at 66,691, followed by Yorkshire & the Humber with 41,299, and the South East with 34,663 homes.

With first-time buyers being priced out of the property market, and record numbers of people waiting on housing lists, there are growing calls for action to be taken against this developing trend of vacant homes.

Why are houses left empty for so long?
Properties are left empty for many different reasons. Some are purely financial; an owner lacks the funds to redevelop or make a property habitable, is awaiting planning permission for structural alterations, or the property is vacant pending sale.

Other reasons can be more personal. The homeowner may be hospitalised on a long-term basis, with little access to their property or affairs, or there could be legal issues surrounding the dissolution of an estate.
Either way, the impact of any of these scenarios can be very real for your home, and your neighbourhood. Read our tips below to see what you can do to help get empty properties back in working order.

What can you do?

It can be hard to tell if a property has been abandoned, or is left empty, but here are a few things that might arouse a suspicion:

  • No-one is seen leaving or entering the property
  • Mail, flyers and catalogues are left discarded at the door
  • The property is in a general state of disrepair
  • Vastly overgrown front and rear gardens
  • An increase in the incidence of vermin or pests around the property
  • Refuse being left or dumped in the garden over a long period
  • Noticing people entering in suspicious circumstances, e.g. squatting or illegal activities

If you have any suspicions do not approach the property yourself. Contact your local council who will investigate on your behalf.

Several local councils employ an empty property officer whose job it is to get properties back in use. They can use contacts to remedy the situation, make a compulsory purchase of the property in extreme circumstances, or enforce a sale if the owner has debts with the council. All of these options can be discussed with your local council.

My Comments
All very well and good saying talk to your local council. As if the Council care two hoots!! I have approached them in the past about empty properties, only to be stonewalled (the usual Data Protection Act excuse) or passed from pillar to post.

A landlord will not generally leave a property empty for no good reason. Afterall, it costs us money. The issue of empty homes and the underlying reasons needs to be looked at more carefully, and measures put in place to assist owners to get them back into use.

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