Richmond council plans to force owners of long-empty properties to sell

Richmond council is declaring war on the scourge of empty properties as the capital struggles with a serious housing shortage.
According to latest estimates from Homes from Empty Homes, an organisation which monitors vacant properties, there are almost 60,000 in the capital. Now Richmond council has identified a series of properties which have stood empty and unmaintained for years and plans to compulsorily purchase them from their owners.
 
It will then sell them on, either to an owner-occupier or a developer, but on one condition. A covenant will be attached to the sale insisting that new owners must renovate their run-down property and get it lived in again within a set timetable, by moving in themselves, renting it out, or selling it on. The original owner will, once their property has been sold, receive compensation.
 
Lola Adepoju, senior environmental health officer at the council, said new owners of the properties will be given in the region of six months to a year to turn them around. If they fail to do so, the council could compulsorily purchase the property from them and begin the whole process again. However, she suspects they will be snapped up by developers who will be focused on realising a profit as quickly as possible.
 
“Empty homes are an eyesore, and affect neighbouring properties,” she says. “There are many people in the borough who need somewhere to live, and it also gets rid of problems like vandalism.”
 
According to recent estimates there are 377 empty homes in Richmond, and well over 7,000 households on its housing waiting list. The proposal is expected to be approved at a meeting tomorrow.
 
The properties the council is focusing on include a three-bedroom Fifties semi in Petersham which has been empty since 2008 and is in a state of “serious disrepair”; a three-bedroom Victorian cottage in Richmond, also in ramshackle condition, which has been vacant since 2009, and a four-bedroom Victorian terrace, also in Richmond, which has been empty since 2001.
 
The average price of a terrace house in this area is well over £1 million, according to latest figures from the Zoopla property website.

The compulsory purchase process can take up to two years to implement, and the threat may well encourage the current owners to sell the properties themselves. But if the process proves a success Ms Adepoju says the council will target other empty homes in the same way.
 
“There are many, many reasons why people leave properties empty,” she says. “Sometimes these places have a sentimental value. The owners don’t have the money to do the work themselves, but they don’t want to let go of them.”

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