Boosting local housing supply and improving the existing housing stock in the private rented sector (PRS) is important to the RLA. Here, RLA policy officer Tim Thomas writes about two consultations that the RLA has responded to, on strategies to tackle empty homes in Wales.
Recently, we responded to the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend County Borough Council’s consultations on strategies to tackle empty homes.
Empty homes are a wasted resource and having an empty property makes little business sense to PRS landlords. Empty homes not only reduce the value of the house in question but have an impact on surrounding properties. Empty properties can also become targets for vandalism, crime and anti-social behaviour such as fly-tipping. So, it is in everyone’s interest to tackle this problem, but we urge local authorities to not only engage with landlords but outline incentives to get properties back on the rental market as quickly as possible – rather than just using the stick approach of taking away council tax exemptions.
To their credit, many local authorities- including Bridgend- have put initiatives together to support landlords get their properties back on the market with interest free loans and grants. These financial incentives are useful in restoring properties, making structural improvements and ensuring homes are fit for human habitation.
But local authorities need to communicate these strategies more effectively with landlords. In some local authorities that have taken away six-monthly exemptions of council tax for empty properties, many landlords face the double jeopardy of having to make significant improvements to homes to get them on the market with the withdrawal of council tax exemptions. This is usually resolved when the landlord provides evidence of the essential maintenance and in some cases we are aware of already paid council tax has subsequently been refunded.
Of course, the real scourge to local communities in relation to empty properties are those that have been empty for long periods of time more than several years. We have called for local authorities to consider a Council Tax premium of up 200% to get these properties on the rental market, but even this should be a last resort.
Some properties are just simply harder to rent than others. Those that have access issues including access through a shop and those that are in areas that are hard to rent where even the carrot of financial incentives will not be attractive enough are barriers to rental occupation.
With the social sector increasingly at stretch to house vulnerable people and the PRS increasingly been asked to pick up the pieces, we have called for an improved relationship between town halls and landlords. Where landlords have long-term empty properties, local authorities should make every effort to engage with them to reduce housing waiting lists and fill empty properties.
- Read more about what RLA members Methodist Action North West are doing to bring empty homes back into use, here.