How Long Can You Keep Your Council House Empty?

This blog answers the question “How Long Can You Keep Your Council House Empty?” An empty (council house) property is defined as owner occupied housing which has been left vacant (as a primary residence) for longer than 6 months. The blog considers the options homeowners have to voluntarily reoccupy the empty premises once their local council gets involved.

How Long Can You Keep Your Council House Empty?

You can only keep your council house empty (without informing your council) for a period of 6 months. After 6 months your council will track down your empty property and investigate why it has been left empty. An interim Empty Dwelling Management Order may be issued on the property if your local housing authority feels that you are not responding to its efforts to bring the vacant council house into residential use.

For which reasons can I keep my council house empty without my local housing authority taking any action against me?

You may keep your council house empty without your Local Housing Authority taking any action against you for the following reasons:

  • Improving the property or making renovations to it. You may leave your council house vacant as it is uninhabitable and requires to be repaired before use. 
  • Your property is being actively marketed for sale or rent
  • The empty council house comprises farmland which has been let to a tenant as an Agricultural Holding under a tenant contract. Such agricultural holding tenancies listed under the Agricultural Holding Act 1986. Or the empty property comprises farmland leased to tenant farmers through a fixed farm business tenancy under Section 10 of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995.
  • The vacant council house has been declared as “available for occupation” by a Minister of Religion and from where he or she will execute their ceremonial duties such as religious worship ( or officiating religious functions including weddings and funerals) 

You will need to provide your Local Housing Authority with a copy of the letter (mentioning the starting date) from your Diocese or other religious body confirming that your council house is being empty on this basis.

  • The council house has been confiscated by the Crown Prosecution Service under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (and the property was subsequently abandoned by its owner).
  • The council house is bound by a court order issued to freeze the assets of the homeowner (which could be as a result of financial bankruptcy) 
  • The council house has been mortgaged and the new owners of the property have initiated their custody of the property. You will have to provide a scanned copy of the mortgage agreement which mentions the date from which the buyers can move in.

What happens after I report an empty property to my local council?

The following actions will be taken once you report an empty property to your local council:

  • A representative from your local council will make a visit to the vacant property within 3 working days
  • You will be provided with a written response to your complaints about the vacant property by your council within 3 working days
  • Your Local Housing Authority will make attempts to contact the empty property’s owner by searching HM Land Registry, the electoral register and other records.
  • Your Local Housing Authority will ascertain the amount of time for which the council house has been left vacant. The apparent or stated reasons for the property being left empty will also be considered.
  • Next your Local Housing Authority will decide on the kind of enforcement action necessary to bring the council house back into occupational use. The 3 types of legal notices which can be used are an interim EDMO, a compulsory purchase order or an enforced sale.

You can search for the email address, postal address or telephone number of your local council online. The the contact details for reporting an empty council house in Mansfield Council are mentioned below

The email address you can write to is [email protected] The telephone number for Empty Property Admin is 01623 463 212. You can write a letter reporting an empty property in Mansfield Council and mail it to the following address:

Empty Property Officer,

Private Sector Housing,

Civic Centre,

Chesterfield Road South,

Mansfield,

Notts.,

NG 197 BH

You are not permitted to report empty council houses which are being used as guest houses (or vacation homes) by the homeowner and vacant council houses owned by a member of the British Armed Forces currently on service duty. 

Which legal powers does my Local Housing Authority have to make me bring my empty property back into use?

Your Local Housing Authority has the following legal powers to make you bring your empty property back into use:

  • A Compulsory Purchase Order can be issued to bring the land back into use without its landlord’s consent. Compulsory Purchase Orders follow provisions set out in the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. It is intended as a last resort after Local Housing Authorities have exhausted all options of obtaining the land by agreement.

           Once the acquiring authority has taken control of the land, it will sell or lease it to one of Homes England’s official partners for the Strategic Homes Programme 2021-26.

  • Your empty property (left vacant at bankruptcy) may be sold off to recover your unpaid debts. These debts may be mortgage debts, council tax debts, credit card debt or bank loan debt. 
  • Other government orders can be issued to get hold of your property  such as in case of a breach of planning control a Planning Contravention Notice, a Breach of Condition Notice, a Planning Enforcement order or a Temporary Stop Notice is used to make the landlord comply.
  • An “interim EDMO” or Empty Dwelling Management order can be served on the vacant property if the Residential Property Tribunal feels that such a threat will be able to persuade the homeowner to promptly bring their land into residential use. 

The interim EDMO will be followed by a final EDMO, which has more wide ranging powers to forcibly get hold of the property, and also contains a management scheme to carry out the envisaged occupation plans for the dwelling.

Conclusion

This blog post addressed the question “How Long Can You Keep Your Council House Empty?” You can keep a council house empty for as long as you like if you comply with the exemption conditions for empty property. Otherwise you may only have 6 months before your council sends you a letter to discuss the reasons for your council house being kept empty.

 You should aim to prevent your local housing authority from serving an interim empty dwelling order on your vacant property, as this is a legal enforcement tool which leads to further more forceful attempts to occupy the empty dwelling

Please feel free to comment on the content or ask any questions in the comments section below :

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) : How Long Can You Keep Your Council House Empty?

What Is An Empty Dwelling Management Order?

An Empty Dwelling Management Order is a set of legal powers provided to local councils for buying (long term) empty properties from landlords and  renting them out to tenants. Empty homes create a series of problems for the community they are located in and most importantly limit the overall land available for housing.

Empty properties stand at risk of being vandalised and broken into with the passage of time. The decision to pursue an EDMO lies with the local housing authority. The Empty Dwelling Management Order is used as a coercive tool by the Local Housing Authority to initiate negotiations with the landlord to change the current status of their property.

Provisions regarding EDMO’s were added to the Housing Bill in the House of Lords (September 2004). This Housing Bill was granted royal assent on 18th November 2004 and came into force on 6th April 2006 (as The Housing Act 2004) These provisions introduce two new kinds of management orders regarding empty council properties or empty dwellings.

These two new management orders are “interim Empty Dwelling Management Orders” and “final Empty Dwelling Management Orders”. The “interim EDMO” is designed to help the Local Housing Authority’s efforts to put legal pressure on the owner of the empty dwelling to transfer the vacant land into residential use. The “interim EDMO” can be initiated by the Local Housing Authority at the request of a Residential Property Tribunal in the following cases:

  • It is convinced that the property has been vacant for at least 6 months
  • No reasonable hope exists for the dwelling or property to be inhabited in the foreseeable future.
  • The Residential Property Tribunal has been notified in advance about the imminent “interim EDMO” to be issued regarding the vacant property. The efforts planned by the property owner or actions currently being taken by him to secure the occupation of the empty dwelling have been considered by the tribunal. 
  • The Residential Property Tribunal is not convinced that the empty dwelling qualifies for an exemption
  • The Residential Property Tribunal believes that the property can be occupied by serving the “interim EDMO” 

Once an “interim EDMO” is approved by the RPT it will remain in place for a period of 12 months.

A “final Empty Dwelling Management Order” is issued to ensure that the property which was previously an empty dwelling continues to be inhabited. The “final EDMO” needs to be made in succession with an “interim EDMO” for it to be valid. The issuance of the “final EDMO” serves to occupy the vacant dwelling regardless of the consent of its owner.

The issuance of a “final Empty Dwelling Management Order”does not involve approval from the Residential Property Tribunal. The “final EDMO” is in place for a fixed period of 7 years.

The following requirements need to be met before issuing a “Final EDMO”

  • All representations on behalf of the residential proprietor have been considered by the RPT
  • The reasons for issuing the “Final EDMO” have been clearly stated by the Local Housing Authority
  • There must be a 14 day consultation period following the issuance of the “Final EDMO” notice. The exact duration of the consultation period needs to be set out before the Final EDMO is served.
  • Laying down the main conditions of the “Final Empty Dwelling Management Order”

Which dwellings are exempt from being served an interim Empty Dwelling Management Order?”

A dwelling is exempted from being served an interim Empty Dwelling Management Order under the following conditions:

  • The dwelling is exclusively occupied by the “relevant proprietor” and has been left vacant because that person is temporarily residing somewhere else, that person is receiving treatment or care at a medical facility, that person is working as a care provider or that person is an active member of the British Armed Forces and is currently on military service.
  • The empty dwelling serves as a holiday home (on a temporary or permanent basis) for the relevant proprietor and his guests.
  • The empty dwelling comprises farmland which has been let to a tenant as an Agricultural Holding under a tenant contract. Such agricultural holding tenancies listed under the Agricultural Holding Act 1986. Or the empty property comprises farmland leased to tenant farmers through a fixed farm business tenancy under Section 10 of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995.
  • The empty dwelling has been declared as “available for occupation” by a Minister of Religion and from where he or she will execute their ceremonial duties such as religious worship ( or officiating religious functions including weddings and funerals) 

You will need to provide your Local Housing Authority with a copy of the letter (mentioning the starting date) from your Diocese or other religious body confirming that your council house is being empty on this basis.

  • The empty dwelling is being actively marketed for sale or rent.
  • The empty dwelling is bound by a court order issued to freeze the assets of the homeowner (which could be as a result of financial bankruptcy) 
  • The empty dwelling has been confiscated by the Crown Prosecution Service under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and so is not being used be its relevant proprietor
  • The relevant proprietor has died, and a period of 6 months has not passed since their death.
  • The empty dwelling has been mortgaged and the new owners of the property have initiated their custody of the property. You will have to provide a scanned copy of the mortgage agreement which mentions the date from which the buyers can move in.
  • The empty dwelling is being utilised by a worker hired by the relevant proprietor for carrying out the tasks mentioned in his or her job contract agreement.

What are the requirements for the Management Scheme enforced as part of a “final EDMO”?

The following requirements must be met in the management scheme or plan, enforced as part of a “final EDMO”:

  • Explanation of any actions the Local Housing Authority intends to take in connection with the empty dwelling
  • An estimated figure of the capital expenditure and other expenses to be incurred on the property while the “final EDMO” is in force
  • The rent charges that might be applicable to the property in the open market at the current point in time
  • The monthly rental the Local Housing Authority will receive from leasing the property
  • The compensation charges the Local Housing Authority has agreed to someone whose lease was determined from appealing to the Residential Property Tribunal 
  • If any surplus or deficit has been brought forward from the interim EDMO or the last final EDMO on the property.
  • Provisions in the order relating to any future surplus payments
  • Provisions about any outstanding compensation payments at the end of the final EDMO.
  • Provisions for any payments which are due to the relevant proprietor (after deducting expenditure and compensation amounts)

In case the rent to be charged for the dwelling under the “final EDMO” is lesser than the market value, the management scheme needs to show that:

  • The difference in the rent charged by the management scheme and the market value has been used to pay for relevant expenditure on the property and for compensation payments. In case the rent is under the market value, it should be demonstrated by the Local Housing Authority’s expenditure costs on the dwelling and also needs to be reflected in compensation payments 
  • Payment of a certain amount which remains to be paid to the “relevant proprietor”
  • The deduction from time to time from the amount which the Local Housing Authority have to recover from the relevant proprietor under the “final EDMO”

The management scheme can also state:

  • How the Local Housing Authority has planned to pay for interest (if applicable) on compensation payments. Also how the LHA has decided to pay for the interest on rent, in case the rental charges are lower than the market value
  • How the Local Housing Authority plans to use the collected rent and other income from the previously empty property to meet its expenses incurred under the management scheme
  • The Local Housing Authority’s intentions on recovering from the relevant proprietor any expenses incurred under the “interim EDMO” or “final EDMO” which have still not been paid back (and to which the LHA is still entitled).

The LHA is bound to maintain full accounts of their income and expenses on the management scheme and on previous attempts to occupy the empty dwelling (under the interim EDMO and final EDMO). It also needs to make reasonable provisions for the assessment, accreditation and copying of the maintained set of accounts by the relevant proprietor or any third party interested in knowing about the (financial details of the ) efforts of the LHA to reoccupy the dwelling.

Citations

Agricultural Holding Act 1986

Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995

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