The ‘empty house’ phenomenon in sought-after areas is growing and growing. And now a London council have plans to put in place a scheme which, they hope, will stop this once and for all. Now, “buy-to-leave” investors could be fined up to £60,000 in an attempt to attack empty housing. This new plan only affects new-builds, so established developments are safe from the injunctions and threat of penalties.
Anyone who newly builds a development of more than 20 dwellings will need to be able to prove that the properties are lived in for at least 14 days out of three months, or face huge monetary consequences. They will be required to provide evidence of dwellers, such as household utility bills in order to avoid the fine, which the council have stated would go towards funding affordable housing elsewhere.
An example of “buy-to-leave” is seen in the recent ‘Vacant Mansion Scandal’ on The Bishops Avenue in London. Nearly 300 homes in the iconic area weren’t registered on the electoral roll, indicating that they were empty. Islington went on to analyse half a dozen new apartment listings built since 2008 and they found that, of 587 dwellings, a third were not registered on the electoral role and therefore presumed empty.
The Georgians on The Bishops Avenue. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
Why the sudden stand against buy-to-leave?
The new strategy has been put in place in order to stop wealthy investors using property for little more than their own monetary gains. Property is seen as an investment, but wasting homes and space when they are so sought after is another thing all together.
As you would expect, the property industry aren’t fans of the news scheme, immediately saying it doesn’t ‘add up’ and raising concerns including the question of how councils will ensure the rules don’t only apply to first sales of a development but also subsequent sales, which the council and developer have no real control over.
Many others, though, are insistent that the plans should go ahead. James Murray, executive member for housing and development, is all for imposing fines for empty houses, in order to prevent wastage. He says:
“We want to use planning policy to end the scandal of new homes being wasted in this way … The criticism of ‘buy-to-leave’ is straightforward: it is wrong when new homes fail to house people. Londoners’ need for somewhere to live should come ahead of global financial investments. It is clear that timidity in the face of an unbridled market will fail.”
At the moment, London is in a housing crisis, with house prices soaring due to high demand, whilst some flats are being left completely empty – it makes sense that the London council has simply had enough. Although, not necessarily in the interest of developers, these new plans are very much in the interest of Londoners, some of which are almost being forced out due to ridiculously high demand (and hence high prices) when there’s perfectly good properties sitting empty.