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How To Protect Landlords’ Empty Homes How To Protect Landlords’ Empty Homes

According to the most recent statistics there are 676,452 vacant properties in England, nearly half a million of which have been empty long-term.

Further investigations have revealed North Norfolk to have the highest level of homes lying empty or infrequently used, which locals are blaming for the current housing crisis.

Empty Homes Week aimed to encourage councils to demonstrate the action being taken to tackle the issue. Last year’s initiative brought about the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in parliament, which will see a number of councils introduce council tax premiums on empty homes after one year from next year.


Why might a home be unoccupied?

There are a number of reasons why homes, or second homes, might be vacant. For example, a property sale or rental agreement might have fallen through, people are renovating, the previous owner has died so it’s under probate or it’s a holiday home that hasn’t been rented.

The length of time people in these circumstances may leave their homes empty often comes down to one thing – money.

In the case of domestic housing, landlords were forced to raise their rent in 2022, up 4.4 per cent in January - a direct consequence of the increased mortgage rates that stemmed from inflated bank rates. 

Rising costs for landlords are causing many to have to sell their rental properties, and statistics revealed that landlords selling their properties rose by 13 perc ent in 2022, but with house prices seeing an all-time high, selling can be difficult and properties can be left empty for prolonged periods. 

Home renovations can also cause a home to be vacant for a significant amount of time, and whilst owners don’t have to pay council tax for the duration of refurbishment, local councils can determine when they should start paying, which can begin during home improvements.

Additionally, bereaved families awaiting a probate grant can face a wait of up to twelve months for an application to be approved, leaving a home vacant and vulnerable.

What are the risks of empty homes?

Leaving a home unoccupied can be risky, as properties can be more susceptible to anti-social behaviour, such as vandalism, break-ins, theft, and fly-tipping as well as other possible damages.

According to a Scottish study, over half of the respondents said that living near an empty home gave them a lower sense of security and just under said they lower the value of other local properties.

Meanwhile, unsecured and empty properties are also at risk of vandalism and arson, with 531,329 reported cases of intentional fires across the UK last year.

These incidences can have detrimental effects on local areas, as reported criminal activity can damage the reputation of the safety of a community, which can negatively impact property prices and deter potential buyers.

So, how can you protect vacant properties?

If you have an unoccupied house, there are several ways to mitigate potential risks and protect the local community.

1. Conduct regular maintenance - Keep it well-presented to physically deter criminals who may believe the home is an easy target. Ensure you regularly discard waste, clear the site, and cut the grass to make people think the house is lived in and well-attended while it’s vacant.

2. Keep security systems activated - The physical presence of one can repel criminals and benefit owners who live away from the property, as many alert them or local authorities if a disturbance is detected.

3. Update locks on any windows and doors to maximise security - All possible access points should be lockable, and any mechanisms that are damaged or weak should be replaced.

4. Get unoccupied property insurance - All vacant properties should have unoccupied property insurance especially those which are holiday homes or second homes, buy-to-let properties or a main residence being renovated or left for more than 30 days. That’s because mortgage companies require property owners to have buildings cover as a condition of their loan. Meanwhile, those who have inherited property will likely benefit from peace of mind knowing the property is protected if they’re away for prolonged periods. This type of insurance usually covers unoccupied property for damage caused by fire damage to theft to legal liability.

5. Turn off the water - Most home insurers don’t cover the escape of water in unoccupied properties, so ensure taps are turned off at the stop tap, both internally and externally, to avoid leaking pipes that could cause significant damage over long periods.

6.    Leave the heating on low - During the winter months, it’s a good idea to leave the heating on a low level, such as 10º, to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. If you can’t access the property regularly, check if your boiler has a frost protection setting to turn it on automatically when it senses that the water has dropped below a specific temperature, to prevent it from freezing.

7.    Remove valuables and conduct weekly inspections - For homes unoccupied for more than 45 days, remove any valuables and conduct weekly inspection visits to remove the post from the outside of the property.

What’s being done to protect unoccupied homeowners?

The government regularly use incentives to bring empty properties back to life, taking different people’s situations into account. Examples of this include Wolverhampton’s support on probate for inherited properties or Woking’s ‘Let’s Rent’ scheme for landlords.

* David Joyson is chief customer officer at Homeprotect *

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