The economic advantage to bringing an empty home back to productive use is clear: it costs between £6,000 and £25,000 to renovate an empty property compared to an estimated cost of £120,000 to build a new home.
There are a number of reasons for homes becoming empty - mortgage default and repossessions; deceased or untraceable owners; property title issues; and properties which have fallen into a state of disrepair.
Since 2019, 963 homes have been brought back into productive use through Glasgow City Council's Empty Homes Officers (EHO) working with owners, following the target of 200-250 homes per year. The council works alongside the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, owners and other interested parties to achieve this.
We have been at the forefront of using compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to tackle the problems of long-term empty homes, increasing affordable housing supply and ensuring the upkeep of pre-1919 tenements.
CPOs are a way of responding to the blight caused by derelict/abandoned flats/houses that have been left vacant for a variety of reasons or properties which have previously been let out but are below tolerable standard (BTS).
The promotion of CPOs send a message that this Council will take action where private landlords or other individuals fail to address problems with their properties.
While they are used as a “last resort”, 56 homes across Glasgow have been pursued for compulsory purchases since 2019. Some of the properties targeted have been lying empty for more than 14 years while other properties have been designated as being BTS for more than 5 years.
But there is a limit on how much we can achieve through CPOs alone. The steps in making and obtaining CPOs are complex, time consuming, costly and also resource intensive. They are also dependant on knowing that we have a partnering housing association willing to take on the property after we purchase it.
A Compulsory Sales Order (CSO) provision, as proposed by the Scottish Land Commission in 2018, would help to increase the number of homes that could be returned to use through compulsory processes. As well as removing the need for the council to purchase the property and identify a follow-on buyer before doing so, it would also open up the sale of neglected and abandoned properties to the wider market, clearing the way for buildings to be redeveloped and returned to active use.
With the right safeguards in place CSOs and compulsory rental order (CRO) powers, modelled on provisions that have been trialled elsewhere in Europe, could both be additional enforcement tools that local authorities across the country could use to increase housing stock. We know that many homes are empty not because of any deliberate intention on the part of the owner, but rather because of individual circumstances, however, that is not always the case.
As with CPOs, CSOs and CROs would not necessarily compel an owner to give up their property as the owner would always have the option to bring the property up to standard and to sell or let it themselves. However, where owners are unwilling or unable to take action to repair and maintain their property or simply do not understand that responsibilities come hand in hand with the right to own property, then such issues require to be addressed.
Local authorities need more powers which CSOs in particular will provide to help tackle the problem of long term empty homes.
Duncan Thomson, Group Manager, Private Sector Neighbourhoods, Regeneration & Sustainability, Glasgow City Council On behalf of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership