Elaine Elder: Owners could be forced to sell as council approves empty housing policy



Elaine Elder

Elaine Elder discusses the implications of the new policy adopted by Aberdeen City Council to tackle the local empty-housing crisis.

Aberdeen City Council has adopted a new policy to tackle the local empty-housing crisis.

A “last resort” for the authority under the scheme will be compulsory-purchase orders to bring homes under the council’s control.

Around 2,500 properties in the city have been classed as long-term vacant, having not been lived in for at least 12 months.

Aberdeen has also been reported to have the highest rate of unoccupied homes of any city in Scotland, with 42 out of every 1,000 properties empty for two years or more.

The council’s operational delivery committee has now backed the new vacant-property policy. The authority will work with owners on issues such as the condition of the house.

Practical help will include support in dealing with the legislative requirements of becoming a landlord, and financial support. Owners will also continue to be offered help signing up for matchmaking schemes, where they can be linked with those looking to rent or buy homes.

But properties vacant for two years or more will continue to be required to pay a 100 per cent additional council-tax levy.

The council said compulsory purchase orders orders will only be used where there has been “repeated and unsuccessful attempts of engagement” with an owner, and the condition of the property continues to deteriorate to an unacceptable extent and adversely impact the community within that area, and where the owner has abandoned the property.

The policy states: “Aberdeen City Council is committed to bringing residential empty properties back into use in response to the negative impact unoccupied homes have on our communities.

“As of January 2021, there are around 2,500 privately-owned properties that have been empty for 12 months or more across the city.

“Aberdeen City Council employs an empty-homes officer who works with owners of long-term empty properties to bring them back into use.

“This is important because the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership estimates that the cost of a new-build property far outweighs the cost of refurbishing an empty home as the infrastructure and local services are already in place when bringing an empty home back into use.

“Further, there is a multiplier effect on the economy in bringing an empty home back into use by restoring confidence in the local economy and property market.”

The approach taken to assist the owners of these properties to become landlords is encouraging – it can often be daunting to individuals to work through the process of leasing out properties and it will be interesting to see what sort of financial support will be available here especially where the properties are in a state of disrepair and may need a huge amount of investment.

It could work to enhance confidence in the housing market and the local economy in Aberdeen in general.

However, if the proprietors are not willing to co-operate and Compulsory Purchase Orders are to be used – the cost and often long process involved in this could outweigh the positives.

My colleague, Adrian Sangster, our National Lettings Director has welcomed the move positive step in the right direction.

He said: “There is currently a chronic shortage of properties available to rent in the city with many people struggling to find homes.” 

“With almost 350,000 households within Scotland’s private rented sector, it remains an integral part of housing provision throughout the country. It would be a supposition that many of these properties are in a poor state of repair and will require significant private investment to bring them up to meet the minimum repairing standard.

“I hope local authorities will engage positively with key stakeholders in the private rented sector to help attract the required investment. I fear however there may be difficulties securing the required investment if the coalition government continues with, what is perceived by many, to be its recent anti-private landlord rhetoric.”

Elaine Elder is an associate at Aberdein Considine