Colchester: Owners of rundown, empty properties could be forced to make them available for social housing

Colchester Borough Council's housing chief Tina Bourne

Colchester Borough Council's housing chief Tina Bourne - Credit: Archant

Owners of rundown, empty properties could be forced to make them available for social housing under new proposals being considered.

Colchester Borough Council is currently exploring how it can use powers under Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) to enable it to bring unoccupied homes back into use.

As part of this the authority may be able to take over the management of a property if it can show it has been empty for at least two years, heavily vandalised or actively used for antisocial purposes.

The proposal is part of a list of ideas being put forward to make more privately-owned properties available for social housing.

Other suggestions include using the council’s housing management organisation, Colchester Borough Homes, as a letting agency for private landlords entering the social housing sector, and the council paying for the repair and redecoration of empty private properties in return for a guarantee they will be used for social housing.

The authority says the approaches are necessary to increase the range of options available to people in housing need and to prevent homelessness.

It says more than 4,000 households in the borough are on the housing register but only 708 affordable homes became available for letting during the last financial year.

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Tina Bourne, the council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “There may be a host of reasons why properties stand empty - it may be that there has been a bereavement in the family or the owners live abroad.

“The leasing scheme would see the council carry out repair work and maintenance on a property in return for a guarantee from the landlord that it would be available for social housing for three to five years, preferably five years.

“We do feel this leasing scheme is offering owners a good deal. But, if they don’t want to take advantage of it and they want to leave their property in a bad state then we will look at compulsory orders.”

Mrs Bourne said few EDMOs have been actioned across the country and that they have been used mainly in London boroughs where there is a greater density of housing. She also said the authority was keen to work with other councils in the region that may have experience in this area.

She added: “It’s only right to expect private owners to keep their properties to an acceptable standard. We do get complaints from neighbours about run-down properties because they bring down the local environment.

“But, the legislation around EDMOs is quite complex and we have to do it correctly or we will be open to challenge and rightly so.

“Tracing some property owners can also be a real problem. In some cases, finding them just to get a fence repaired can be very difficult.”

The proposals will be examined at a specially-arranged meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee on July 6.