Government figures estimate there are 600,000 empty homes in England, 216,000 of which have been vacant for more than six months.
When we need another 300,000 new homes each year to meet demand, returning some of these vacant properties to the open market would ease the pressure.
Recent statistics show the worst towns or cities in England for empty property, outside London, are Birmingham and Bradford, with more than 8,000 vacant homes between them. There are, of course, many complex reasons why houses are abandoned and left to decay, but I believe we have a collective responsibility to urge action from those in a position of power and end this scourge on our suburbs.
This is empty homes week and I, along with other professionals with an interest in this subject, will be attending an Empty Homes Roadshow in County Durham on Tuesday to raise awareness of the issue and highlight how we can make a difference.
Leading the movement pressing for change is Action on Empty Homes. The group has asked councils to sign up to empty homes week and more than 100 have committed, organising events, such as those taking place in County Durham.
As a specialist in complex intestacy cases, I know only too well why and how homes end up standing empty for months, if not years. Sometimes it takes hours of research to find next of kin, or a person is declared missing, not dead and their assets become bound up in reams of red tape.
However, with a little determination and tenacity, we can work with families and councils to resolve issues surrounding empty homes and unlock them for future use. Here are a couple of examples of how I have done just that:
Research reaps rewards
I was instructed by the cousin of a gentleman who died at home to help administer his estate. He was a bachelor, the only child of deceased parents and had died intestate, whilst suffering mental health issues. The matter was further complicated by squatters, who had gained access to his property, preventing us from reviewing his paperwork.
At this point, we believed his estate consisted solely of the known property, which was in a very poor state of repair. However, it transpired it was still in the name of his late mother and there was a restriction on the title, relating to an estate duty liability in respect of his grandmother.
We carried out detailed research and enquiries to establish the assets and liabilities of his estate, resulting in further assets in excess of £1 million being discovered.
By settling the tax due on the estate, we were able to obtain the grant of administration for the deceased and his late mother. This meant we could apply for a further grant of title to the property. Finally, we were able to evict the squatters and make it secure, before putting it up for sale.
London property benefits many
A local authority in London approached me, as part of a drive to put long term empty properties back into use. The deceased’s home, in this case, had stood empty for 14 years.
I acted for a first cousin, once removed, of the deceased, who had instructed other solicitors, but became impatient at their lack of progress and clarity.
The deceased was one of four children born to an English father and Ecuadorian other. He died intestate, as a bachelor, leaving one surviving sister who was living in Canada. She was the only person with an entitlement to his estate, but died three years after him without obtaining letters of administration.
We were able to gain a grant to the surviving sister’s estate in England and Wales, allowing us to deal with the property, which then meant we could apply to the Land Registry to register the title.
My client instructed genealogists to identify all the beneficiaries entitled to a share of the estate and prepare a family tree – there were 17 in total. We also had to consider the possibility of further beneficiaries in Ecuador, so we obtained a suitable indemnity policy to protect against unknown claims.
The London property market meant when the house sold, there was going to be a significant capital gains tax liability, however, as there were 17 beneficiaries, we were able to utilise their individual annual exemptions, saving in excess of £26,000.
For more information you can contact me by calling 0114 218 4241 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org