Council bosses are bidding to clamp down on Leeds’s empty homes epidemic, and could soon be lobbying Government for extra powers to forcibly buy long-term abandoned privately owned properties.
The authority has recently started charging absentee landlords 150 per cent council tax as they bid to reduce the city’s almost 4,000 long-term unoccupied privately owned houses.
It is also increasingly using its Compulsory Purchase powers to buy properties and bring them back into the city’s homes stock.
However bosses admit more needs to be done, especially as the city’s booming population is fuelling an acute housing crisis.
A recent inquiry panel at Leeds Civic Hall was told that “virtually all” the empty homes in Leeds are in private sector ownership. There are currently 3,776 buildings sitting empty long term.
The figure has dropped by 3,000 since March 2010 and the overall number of empty homes in the city - both short and long term unoccupied - has reduced from 16,700 to 11,535 in January 2016.
A report to the housing scrutiny panel said the number of long term empty properties for which the council has ‘powers to tackle’ has reduced from 6,721 in March 2010 to 3,942 at January 2016.
Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, councillor Debra Coupar, said: “We’ve been working for a number of years to reduce the number of empty properties as this is in the best interest of our communities.
“Our approach has proven successful as at the end of February 2016 there were 3,000 fewer empty homes in Leeds compared to March 2010.
“This approach is centred on working pro actively with owners.
“The partnerships we’ve established with the third sector and social enterprises – for example funding the Empty Homes Doctor – allows us to target more difficult properties while they find bespoke solution for owners who simply don’t know what to do with or are the end of their tether with an empty property.
“Getting these homes back on the market for sale or rent is just one part of our strategy to ensure there are quality, affordable homes in Leeds.
“This innovative approach is acknowledged as one of the country’s best and we’re committed to developing these partnerships and networks to get more empties back into use.
“Only when this approach fails will we use our CPO powers as a last resort.
“I will continue to push central Government for greater powers, not only on CPOs, but on ways we can work creatively with landlords to improve properties and bring empty homes back into use.”
Currently in Leeds, 150 per cent Council Tax is charged on all empty homes which have been unoccupied for more than two years.
The scrutiny report says the authority is keen on “prioritising all long term empty homes to determine the appropriate routes for action” and on “targeting of empty homes, as well as poor quality accommodation by intervening in small neighbourhood areas”.
In recent weeks and months, there have been a number of compulsory purchases imposed on long termempty homes.
These include two derelict houses on Lea Farm Crescent in Kirkstall, which - it was claimed - had lain empty since the mid 1990s.
And on Cross Green Lane, a mid-terraced 19th century house which had sat vacant for more than 15 years was forcibly bought by the council.
The council has also recently spent £2.2m on converting two unused community centres into council homes,
A programme to buy back up to 100 former council houses which were bought under the Right to Buy legislation - and have been empty and blighting neighbourhoods ever since - is also well under way.