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Legal action your council can take


See Factsheet 6: What legal action can a council take with long-term empty homes?

Empty properties can cause many problems to neighbours and to communities. But councils have powers to deal with many of the issues that arise at a local level.


They also have powers to deal with the wider issues of housing need and, in certain circumstances, can bring about the re-use of a property for housing accommodation.


The following powers can be exercised by local councils to deal with problems associated with Empty Homes:

Compulsory Purchase

For some long term empty properties, particularly those in very poor condition, councils can seek permission from central government to buy them without the owner's agreement and sell them on to someone who will be willing and able to put them back into good condition and use them for residential accommodation.

Read an article from the Bristol Evening Post discussing the council's compulsory purchase powers.

Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs)

If certain residential properties have been empty for over two years and every effort has been made to get the property back into use as a home, but without success, an application can be made to the Residential Property Tribunal for an order allowing a council to take over the property, renovate it as necessary and let it for up to 7 years.

Read more information on EDMOs.

Enforced Sale

If, in the course of dealing with local problems caused by empty properties, a council carries out work in default, the cost of that work is registered as a charge against the property

If, after all reasonable effort, the council cannot recover that money from the owner, a council can then force the property to be sold at auction and the debt recovered out of the sale price. It is hoped that the purchaser will then refurbish the property and bring it back into use for residential accommodation.

Read how a local authority in Kent enforced the sale of a long term, derelict empty property.

Town and Country Planning Act

If a building or structure is in such a poor condition that it seriously affects the appearance of an area or neighbourhood councils can require that works of repair, restoration or demolition be carried out. They can do this by serving a notice under section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

More information on the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.


Where a property is causing a nuisance to neighbouring properties e.g. a gutter or roof is leaking so that water is coming into a neighbouring property, councils can in some circumstances require that the nuisance is abated. Contact your local council for more information.

Open to access

If a house is unlocked and open so that anyone can get into it, councils can require that work be done to secure it so that no unauthorised people can get inside.


If there are rats or mice in a property or garden councils can require that steps be taken to destroy the pests and/or do work to keep the property free from pests.


If drains are blocked or broken, councils can require that work be done to unblock the drain and/or repair it.


If a garden contains so much rubbish that it seriously affects the appearance of an area or neighbourhood councils can require that work is done to clean up the problem.

Default work

If a council instructs an owner to do any of these works and they are not carried out within a reasonable time; then the work can be done by the council in default of the owner. This means that the council does the work and charges the owner for the cost of the works plus our administrative charge.

If an empty property near you is causing some of these problems, or even if it is not, it is still a wasted housing resource at a time of great housing need: let your local council know about it. We will try to help.

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In South Gloucestershire 181 empty properties were returned to use in 2012/13!
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