More than 1000 empty homes in Cardiff are ‘blighting communities’, says councillor
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
More than a thousand homes left empty in Cardiff are “blighting communities” and worsening the city’s housing crisis, it has been claimed.
Cardiff currently has 1,355 private sector homes which have been left empty for more than six months, according to the latest figures.
That’s a similar figure to the number of homes let to people on the waiting list for social housing last year—highlighting the need to bring these empty homes back into use.
Cardiff council has revealed a new action plan to encourage, and if needed force, landlords not to leave their homes empty in the long term.
Councillor Lynda Thorne, cabinet member for housing and communities, said: “It is commonly accepted that long-term empty homes are a wasted resource. This is a matter which has been thrown into sharper focus by the pandemic and the housing crisis.
“Empty properties can attract squatting, vandalism, drug abuse, anti-social behaviour, arson, and rodents. They can cause damage to neighbouring homes and if properties remain empty, the inevitable deterioration has an impact on neighbours and blights communities.
“While Cardiff has seen a decrease in long-term empty dwellings down from 1,568 in 2018/19 to 1,355 now, it’s clear that we need a focus and some fresh policies which can help get these properties back in use, housing people and families.”
Owners of homes left empty more than a year are charged a premium rate of council tax at 150 per cent of the normal rate. The money the council receives from this is ringfenced and used by the housing department to help bring empty homes back into use. Some of this work can take three years, to move from an initial inspection to a compulsory purchase order.
Of the 1,355 long term empty homes, 340 have been empty for more than two years, 132 for more than five years, and 53 for more than a decade.
‘Most empty properties’
Roath is the ward with the most empty properties, with 166 as of April 2019. The Cathays ward, which includes the city centre, has the second highest with 140. This was followed by Grangetown with 123, and Riverside including Pontcanna with 110. Pentyrch had the fewest empty homes with just eight.
Cllr Thorne said: “Working with the Welsh Government we have developed an empty homes policy and action plan which outlines the assistance that can be offered to owners to encourage them to bring properties—which have been empty for longer than six months—back into use. This policy also sets out the enforcement tools that are available where advice and assistance fails.
“We want to foster good relations with owners and to encourage them to return their properties to use, giving them all the advice and assistance they require to help them do that. Bringing these types of properties back into use, allied to our own council house building programme, has the potential to make significant inroads as we look to deliver more affordable housing across the city.”
Several incentives are used to encourage property owners to bring empty homes back into use. These include loans from the council for renovation, a leasing scheme run by the council and United Welsh housing association, and the option for the council or Taff housing association to purchase empty homes. Advice and assistance is also on offer to landlords.
If incentives don’t work, then the council has a range of enforcement options for empty homes, including compulsory purchase orders, where the owner is forced to sell the home to the council, who will then use it as either council housing or sell it on to a new owner. Other powers include forcing action on problems like overgrown gardens and rodents.
‘Housing enforcement team’
Steve Tudball, team manager of the housing enforcement team, said: “If we look at properties being brought back into use, 95 per cent will be brought back into use by us offering advice and assistance, and low level enforcement. But there will be a handful of properties where owners are obstinate or really not in a position at all to bring properties back into use, where we’re going to have to consider some fairly major interventions.”
He was telling councillors on the community and adult services scrutiny committee about the new policy during a meeting last week. Chair of the committee, Cllr Shaun Jenkins, said the council should focus only on vacant homes which are poorly maintained, and owners who maintain their properties but keep them empty for years “aren’t doing anything wrong”.
He said: “My worry at the moment is that you could have a home that’s vacant for an extended period of time and the owners are maintaining it, but they essentially end up being harangued by the council because the property is vacant.
“[Council] time is going to end up being consumed by chasing people who aren’t doing anything wrong, they just happen to have a vacant home that is well maintained. Surely, if a house is empty, and there’s nothing else wrong with it, then the length of time should be immaterial.”
While the council’s housing enforcement team focuses on homes which are poorly maintained and attract complaints from neighbours, owners of all empty properties are regularly written to with offers of advice and support to bring them back into use.
Mr Tudball said: “I would still say it’s a wasted resource. If that property has lain empty for many years and there isn’t a plan for how it’s going to be used, that doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I don’t think it’s right that properties simply lay empty without any future plan.”
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