Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Response to the Daily Express' "crusade" against EDMOs

If my only information about EDMOs had come from the Daily Express I would be up in arms, aghast at the draconian new powers that had been given to local authorities. Horrified that councils could break in and steal family heirlooms and worried that my home was next.

Let me reassure you nobody is going to come and snatch your home. These powers are not there to help councils acquire property; they are there to help alleviate the problems of abandoned homes owned by people who don’t care. Not people who find them selves in the unfortunate position of having a temporarily vacant home. They are there to help deal with the problems of run down property, eyesores that attract petty crime, vandalism, graffiti, and arson. They are there to help the people who live next to these abandoned houses and are currently powerless to act.

The exemptions cover every other eventuality. If the owner is away for work or travelling however long that might be EDMOs do not apply, if the property is empty because the owner is away in hospital or caring for somebody else, if the property is a second home, a holiday home, EDMOs do not apply. If the home for sale or to let EDMOs do not apply. If the owner has plans for bringing the property back into use an EDMO won’t be made. If the property is in probate following the death of the owner EDMOs do not apply. What other reasons are there for a property being empty?

There are 300,000 long-term empty homes in England, 85% of them are privately owned. Yes publicly owned empty homes are a scandal too but there are already powers to deal with them (PRODS) and their numbers have come down dramatically. Every empty home means another new house has to be built often on greenfield land to house our growing population. Reduce the numbers of empty homes and we reduce the need to build so many new homes.

Let’s also look at some of the other myth that have been peddled by the Express:

Family heirlooms cannot be snatched. This is a misreading of a clause that actually requires local authorities to look after any contents in a house to which an EMO applies. If the owner doesn’t want the contents the local authority can’t just throw them away they have to store them safely until the owner says they want them back.

There are several; rights of appeal. In fact it’s hard to find a piece of legislation with more appeal opportunities for the property owner. The owner can appeal against the decision to make an EDMO, they can also appeal at any time during an EDMOs duration if the think the local authority is not managing the property efficiently. They can also appeal to have the order revoked if they have new plans to manage the property themselves.

Owners are not locked into an EDMO. Once it is made the owner can still sell the property at any time, and indeed if they want to manage it themselves they can apply to have the order revoked.

Council’s do have to obtain a market rent for the property. If they let it at below market rent they have to compensate the owner with the difference.

Lastly there is no programme to seize thousands of empty homes. The power is a discretionary one, local authorities make their own decision of whether to use it. I can’t guarantee that all of them will use it sensibly, but I believe the vast majority will. It is one of many different approaches that local authorities can take. Many already give grants and loans to help empty home owners with repairs, some offer tenant finding schemes, some help owners sell and market their homes. Only when these sorts of services have been offered and have failed should EDMOs even enter local authorities minds. I predict a small number of EDMOs actually being used but if it helps turn abandoned homes back into places that people want to live in and live next door to it will have been a success


  1. I am appalled at the apparent errors and misleading statements in this posting, which purports to come from a policy adviser at the Empty Homes Agency.

    For example, the blogger says "If the property is in probate following the death of the owner EDMOs do not apply." Section 4.3(j) of the guidance notes makes it clear that an EDMO can be applied for just 6 months after probate has been granted - while the estate is still being administered.

    If I am missing something, please point me in the right direction. If I have read the guidance accurately, please correct the misleading blog.

  2. Dear George I have been working on EDMOs for a long time and I understand them very well. If you feel my post was misleading I apologise, It is intended to be exactly the opposite. I want to clear up the misleading reporting elsewhere. I have read it again and I believe there are no errors in this post.

    The guidance and more importantly the legislation provide a number of exemptions from EDMOs. One applies where the owner has died. It says " the relevant proprietor of it has died and six months has not elapsed since the grant of representation was obtained in respect of such person" Grant of representation is a court order authorising a person to deal with the assets of the deceased it is effectively the end of probate.

    I know the legalistic writing style of the guidance is difficult to understand, but what this means is that where a property is empty because the owner has died it is exempt from EDMOs whilst probate is sorted out and for a further six months after that. Which is what I said in the post.

  3. While the aim of bringing empty properties back into use is perfectly honourable, these proposals give too much power to local authorities, many of which are not fit to use them, with inadequate controls and safeguards.

    From personal experience of living under the authority of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, I have seen compulsory purchase powers, which are supposedly intended to enable regeneration to take place for the benefit of the community, being used in a cynical attempt to grab valuable tracts of land, to the detriment of the people whose homes stand on the land. I have no doubt that these powers would be used in a similarly unacceptable way.

    The main problem with empty homes in this area is due to property speculators buying houses and allowing them to fall into a state of dereliction, with the aim of acquiring planning permission for commercial developments on the land. Far from the council fighting this blight, they have encouraged it. The second most serious problem comes from Registered Social Landlords leaving property vacant, but as RSLs often collude with local authorities, there is also little action taken in this area.

    Experience says that local authorities will not use these powers to target those organisations which cause the real problems – property developers, RSLs and local authorities themselves – but will focus on the easiest targets, the weak and vulnerable.

  4. Sorry David - that is NOT what you said. Your original statement was "If the property is in probate following the death of the owner EDMOs do not apply".

    I pointed out that this is incorrect.

    Your response sets out exactly what I said in my post, which was based on a careful reading of the Government's guidance notes. So I think we are both saying that your first post was incorrect, and we both agree what the correct interpretation is.

    By the way - no need to be condescending by saying that "the legalistic writing style of the guidance is difficult to understand". I thought the guidance notes were clear and - I think we both now agree - capable of unambiguous interpretation.


  5. whether the legislation says that property is exempt until 6 months after probate or not that is not what is happening. I received a letter on 10th July about my mother's empty retirement flat, she died in February.It was written on the 3rd - quick off the mark I'd say. Probate was granted on 7th April which was a lot quicker than many people in this position. I was shocked, distressed and very disturbed that this is happening in the UK in the 21st century. The need to bring derelict property back into the market is obvious but I draw the line at putting pressure on recently bereaved people in this way. I am seething with indignation.

  6. Dear Paul

    I only know a little about the situation in Oldham so I won’t comment on the specifics there but your wider point is well made. Some local authorities and some RSLs make bad decisions and implement them without enough understanding of the consequences.

    Last week we published some guidance to local authorities and in the middle of a series of regional conferences. The message I am putting out to local authorities is this:

    Local authorities need to firstly understand why homes are empty in their area, secondly provide a range of solutions and assistance to property owners and thirdly they should decide whether the local authority needs to be involved and if so apply the right solution to each case. Most of the solutions we have been promoting are non-statutory for example giving grants, helping find builders, help with selling, low interest loans. But when all else fails there are some cases where legal enforcement is appropriate.

    Some local authorities get this judgement wrong, and as you rightly point out the legal powers they already have are more draconian than EDMOs. I actually think that the safeguards in EDMOS are wide-ranging and thorough. I am optimistic that the residential property tribunals who issue the orders will take a sensible view and refuse orders to local authorities that attempt to use them inappropriately.

    Dear George,

    I’m afraid we don’t agree. If the property is in probate following the death of the owner EDMOs do not apply. They also do not apply for a further 6 months after the grant of representaiton. Both statements are true and they are not contradictory.

  7. Dear Una,

    We have been in touch away from this blog and I am sympathetic to the points you make. I think there is a very real issue with the way local authorities deal with the owners of empty homes. My impression is that your experience is not common, but it is also not the first case like this I have been told about. I don't approve of threatening letters in any circumstances, but to send one to you in your situation was tactless and insensitive and I don't condone it at all.

    Local authorities have been dealing with empty homes for many years and the new legislation doesn't really change things that much. What they often do is send out letters to owners of homes they know to be empty to ask what plans the owner has. Local authorities don't know the reasons for homes being empty unless they ask, so I think it is legitimate for them to write and enquire. When they know more about the case they are in a better position to know whether they need to be involved (in most cases they don't). And if so what sort of help they might offer. In most cases they can offer services like grants and tenant finding schemes. Enforcement is a last resort and shouldn't even be considered until all else has failed. I don't know whether the letter you received was one of these, but it sounds possible. Unfortunately some letters are badly and insensitively phrased and whilst they are innocently intended they appear to the reader to contain implied threats. I wrote about it in an earlier post on this blog "writing wrongs." In a few cases local authorities do use legal enforcement inappropriately if your letter was intended as a threat of legal action you are well within your rights to complain and I would support you.

    Your wider point is that probate plus 6 months is not a long enough exemption. I sympathise with your view. In your case your local authority would have no grounds to apply for an EDMO. There is an exemption for probate plus a further 6 months, and then other exemptions would apply if the property were marketed for sale or for letting. I wouldn't support any local authority using statutory enforcement in a case like yours.

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  10. An interim EDMO can be made if a dwelling is wholly unoccupied. If there is any occupation, lawful or unlawful (e.g., a squat), an EDMO cannot be made (Housing Act 2004, s.133). Before making an order, the local authority must apply to and obtain authorisation from a residential property tribunal.
    Before applying to the tribunal, the local authority must make reasonable efforts to notify the relevant proprietor that they are considering making an interim EDMO and ascertain what steps (if any) he is taking, or is intending to take, sportsbook to secure that the dwelling is occupied (s.133(3)). Before making the application, the authority must take into account the rights of the relevant proprietor and the interests of the wider community.
    At the same time as applying for authorisation to make an interim EDMO the authority may also apply for an order to end a lease or licence of the dwelling so that they may obtain possession of it.

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