Shaheena Din: How to get empty homes onto the housing market

With house prices and rents soaring out of reach of ordinary people, it is shocking to know that more than 5,000 properties lie empty throughout Edinburgh.
Thousands of houses could be providing much needed homes but are lying empty (Picture: John Devlin)Thousands of houses could be providing much needed homes but are lying empty (Picture: John Devlin)
Thousands of houses could be providing much needed homes but are lying empty (Picture: John Devlin)

This week the city council has agreed to take legal action in four very long-running cases where homes have lain not only empty but neglected for so long that they’ve become a blight on their communities.

The council will attempt to get Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) on the properties.

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This will come as welcome news to neighbours powerless to stop the house next door slowly turning into a weed-covered ruin like something out of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership supports these test CPOs but believes the City of Edinburgh Council could take more effective action on the less visible cases which nevertheless leave potential homes going to waste and can cause difficulties for neighbours – for example with communal repairs in tenements.

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As the body set up to lead the drive against the national waste of empty property, we’ve helped councils to bring more than 3,000 houses back to use since 2011.

We know that the most effective route is to employ staff who only focus on empty homes work, engaging all owners of private property that has lain empty for six months or more and not just the handful of extreme cases which has been the approach taken in Edinburgh in recent years.

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Homes become long-term empty usually through normal life events.

An owner going into residential care or dying are common reasons for a property becoming empty. And sometimes people inherit a house when they are late in their own lives. Disagreement among those inheriting can also be a cause of delay, while debt and bankruptcy can force someone out.

At the moment, it’s too easy for an owner to stick their head in the sand when it all gets on top of them, especially if there’s no help on hand to give them a better way out.

Empty Homes Officers help them to make decisions and to take the right steps to getting these empty properties back to use.

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While the Scottish Government has welcomed plans to introduce Compulsory Sale Orders – a type of legal action which will see the property sold without the public purse footing the bill – the most successful route for councils will still be to provide advice and support, day-in-day out.

It is this strategy that is working in council areas across Scotland and it is what we hope to see happening in Edinburgh.

Shaheena Din is the national manager of the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership