OPPOSITION councillors have put pressure on Solihull council to takeover empty properties – as over 500 houses are found to be vacant in the borough.
In Solihull, the number of unoccupied properties unused for over six months has risen to 536.
The council says it is working to reduce the number due to concerns about anti-social behaviour and unmanaged properties blighting the borough’s neighbourhoods.
According to council figures there is no trend to indicate numbers of empty houses are on the rise.
Although the council says worries do exist that with an increasingly ageing population, empty houses could become more common.
There are numerous reasons a house may spend a long time vacant such as unexpected death, a move to a care home, owners are awaiting sale or insolvency.
Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) mean a local authority, with the consent of the owner of the property, can take steps to secure a new owner for an empty dwelling.
But Solihull council are yet to utilise this option.
Solihull Lib Dem leader, councillor John Windmill said: “I am all in favour of extending the powers of local authorities to take over homes that have been empty for considerable periods of time.
“There are obviously delays in dealings with properties where their owners have died and there should be a period of time allowed for new owners to repair and enhance properties they have purchased.
“Otherwise I believe councils have a duty to bring back empty properties for use and I was saddened to hear, following a question I raised at a recent meeting, that Solihull had not yet used its existing powers of purchase.
“The current regime in Solihull seem reluctant to use these powers and one must question how seriously they regard the existing housing crisis.”
Figures uncovered through the Liberal Democrats Freedom of Information responses from 276 local councils show there are over 216,000 homes across the country that have been empty for six months or more.
Of these, 60,000 had been empty for two years or more, 23,000 for five years or more, and over 11,000 have stood empty for at least ten years.
Coun Windmill claims neighbouring council’s – such as Birmingham and Stratford – have used the EDMO option.
Councillor Robert Hulland, cabinet member for resources and delivering value, said:
“It is part of the normal cycle of properties becoming empty and then occupied again.
“We have taken the option to levy a premium of 50 per cent to the normal council tax charge if a property is empty for more than two years.
“A corporate working group was formed two years ago to target those empty properties that had been empty for a considerable length of time.
“Court action would be used as a last resort. We try and engage with the owners and give help and advice in order to reach a mutually acceptable outcome that means the property is repaired where necessary and is re-occupied.
“Of the 65 properties identified, 28 per cent have since become occupied due to the groups’ intervention.”
Green opposition councillors have also criticised Solihull council for not managing the housing crisis with enough urgency.
Coun Max McLoughlin said: “These tough measures only needs to be done for a few to send a message to the rest that dwellings shouldn’t be left unoccupied. We can’t lose sight of the fact that we have a homelessness crisis and homes sitting empty.”