Memorandum by a North Manchester Residents
Association (EMP 54)
This document has been prepared by members of
a North Manchester Residents Association in response to the press
notice issued by the Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Committee concerning a new inquiry into the problem of empty homes.
Each item is addressed in the order given on the press notice:
1. The consequences of so many homes being
empty, including the link between empty homes and urban degeneration,
social and racial tension.
Empty homes are a target for vandals. The windows
get broken and have to be boarded up causing the appearance of
the street to deteriorate, and advertising the fact that the property
is empty and available for squatting, drug/solvent abuse, arson
and further vandalism. Empty homes attract unscrupulous builders
who take the fittings, central heating boilers, roof tiles etc.
Empty homes are also subject to infestation from rats, pigeons
and other vermin and are often set on fire. Long-term empty homes
become structurally unsound due to neglect and are a danger to
residents, and to children who persistently break into them.
Empty boarded up houses in a street or neighbourhood
are an eyesore. They are difficult to sell or let out to tenants,
and cause other residents to move away from the area with the
general result that the area is de-populated and local amenities
suffer. They also discourage prospective buyers from purchasing
property in the area. (Location, location, location. . .)
Empty homes are broken into and used by criminals,
squatters, drug abusers, drug dealers and other disruptive elements.
Burglary and car crime, particularly "joy riding", increase
dramatically and this tends to drive the longer-term "respectable"
residents away and increase tension in the area, especially at
night time. In some neighbourhoods, youths come from surrounding
areas to vandalize properties and to steal vehicles for "joy
riding". The issue of "joy riding" is particularly
pertinent since small children living in the neighbourhood often
play in the streets and are extremely vulnerable. "Joy riders"
have no regard whatsoever for other road users or pedestrians
and as such represent a serious threat to the neighbourhood. "Joy
riding" currently goes on daily and nightly in Moston, usually
with the added noise of police sirens and helicopter.
The effect of these factors on property values
in the area is devastating. Would you invest in an area obviously
in decline where properties are boarded up and burnt out and people
are afraid to walk the streets at night? Property values collapse
and the only way to sell a property in such an area is by auction
where you might except to get £3-£10k from a private
landlord for a house that might have cost £25-£30k 10
As the area declines, owner-occupiers, desperate
to move, sell their houses at a substantial loss, at the local
market rate defined by private landlords. Houses are then let
to tenants without any vetting or regulation. Tenants are often
disruptive and antisocial people who are unable to get council
or housing association accommodation due to their past record.
This further accelerates the decline. It is also rumoured that
landlords deliberately put bad tenants in to "clear out"
the existing owner-occupiers so that their properties become available
for purchase. This may or may not be true, but it is worth considering
the economics of the situation:
Suppose that a landlord buys a property for
£10k and lets it out to a Benefits Agency tenant for £300
per month. This money is paid directly to the landlord from housing
benefit. The initial investment will be recouped in less than
three years (33.33 months) and the annual return on the investment
is 36 per cent per annum. Properties are also sometimes converted
into flats with little regard for fire and noise regulations,
allowing the landlord to recoup the initial investment faster.
Now suppose that the landlord has 10 such properties and one falls
into neglect. His return falls to 32.4 per cent per annum, a mere
3.6 per cent reduction. For a landlord operating a number of properties
it is not in his interest to prevent property from becoming derelict.
In conclusion, private landlords make a lot
of money (out of the poorest people) and it is of little consequence
if some of their properties fall into dereliction. In addition
to this, property that changes hands for less than £10k does
not require registration with the Land Registry. The consequence
of this is that the owners of derelict properties are virtually
All of the factors outlined above cause neighbourhoods
to become uninhabitable over a period of a few years. Local amenities
suffer and often have to close. Eventually, the only option for
the council is to demolish.
Furthermore, any deprived area is an easy target
for political extremists particularly from the far right to stir
up trouble and incite racial hatred (Germany 1930s). This has
happened recently in northern towns with high levels of deprivation.
2. The benefits which would arise from bringing
empty homes back into use
Provisions of housing; there is apparently a
shortage of housing in the inner cities, yet in certain parts
of the city, there are vast areas of unoccupied homes.
To strengthen and sustain existing local communities,
make the area "lived in" and improve its viability as
a neighbourhood. More people would be available to use local amenities,
and the threat of vandalism, crime, drug abuse and arson would
be reduced. Property values would fall into line with national
averages as a consequence of re-population.
One possibility for bringing low demand terraced
property back into use might be to combine two small terraced
houses to make a larger property more suitable for a family. Intermediate
rows of houses could be demolished to provide gardens and play
areas and eliminate the alleyways and culture that grows out of
them, animal, vegetable and human. A converted terrace would also
be subject to only one payment of council tax.
Empty properties could also serve as student
accommodation. They could be bought at low cost by university
accommodation agencies and let out to students who want a quiet
place to study. The University would be accountable and could
be easily contacted regarding any issues pertaining to the properties.
3. Why so many homes are empty
Homes are empty in certain areas because ultimately
nobody wants to live there. The reasons for this, given in the
first part of this account, constitute a clear cycle of events
which destroys neighbourhoods. The main culprits being irresponsible
private landlords who are unaccountable to local government and
regeneration boards. They are often untraceable since properties
sold for less than £10k do not require registration with
the Land Registry. This is a major contributory factor to the
decline and must be addressed urgently. The combination of lack
of accountability and high returns inevitably attracts criminal
elements into the letting business and residents are often reluctant
to involve local government and the police in the event of any
trouble for fear of reprisals.
4. The effectiveness of government policy
Government policy to date has not acknowledged
that there is a problem at all. The effectiveness of any policy
is probably zero if not negative. It seems that it is very straightforward
to operate as a private landlord without any regulation or accountability.
Particularly in the accommodation of asylum seekers who are often
housed in sub standard accommodation with no proper support from
the state or the landlord. The landlord is paid directly from
government funds, is not accountable to anyone and is under no
obligation to do anything for either the tenants or the neighbourhood.
5. What additional measures should be taken
by the government, housing corporations, local authorities and
in particular whether:
5.1. Local authorities should charge
full council tax on empty properties; This would impose a
small burden on landlords if it were possible to find them and
would require substantial legislative changes. Yes in principle
but probably wouldn't make much difference, as so many landlords
5.2. There should be further changes
to VAT; What is the current VAT position for landlords? Do
they pay any tax at all?
5.3. Compulsory purchase powers should
be revised; This is definitely the case. If a property has
gone beyond a certain stage of neglect it should be either demolished
or compulsorily purchased and renovated to be let out by the council.
5.4. A statutory duty should be placed
on local authorities to establish an empty homes policy; This
should include a register of bad landlords, a register of empty
properties and heavy penalties for landlords who allow property
to fall into neglect. Penalties might include substantial fines,
naming and shaming using local press radio and TV and a full investigation
into their business affairs by the Inland Revenue and the Police.
5.5. Regional planning guidance is taking
proper account of the re-use of empty properties in making provision
for housing; Regional planning seems to involve new housing
developments exclusively, ignoring the existing housing stock.
Planning departments seem to have "special arrangements"
with developers, and existing housing is usually demolished wholesale
to make way for new developments. Re-use of empty properties does
not seem to be on the planning agenda.
6. What government departments and their agencies,
the NHS, local authorities and RSLs should do to bring more of
the properties they own into use
Either use them for the purposes that they were
intended for or donate them to community organizations for public
use with adequate funding for maintenance and security provision.
7. What specific steps should be taken in
areas of low demand, including whether
7.1. Too many homes are being built and
proposed by regional planning conferences on greenfield sites
in such areas; This is definitely the case. It is probably
more cost effective for the developer to build on greenfield sites.
7.2. Government offices for the region
should be more vigorous in implementing government policy;
Yes, especially where government policy applies to the re-use
of empty property.
7.3. Regneration initiatives are adequately
addressing the problem of empty houses; Regeneration initiatives
seem to take little account of empty properties. They are mainly
business orientated. Cosmetic improvements to run down properties
have been carried out in some areas nearby however.
7.4. Too many homes for rent continue
to be built in such areas; New homes are generally built for
private sale, not for rent.
7.5. Some homes should be demolished;
If a property goes beyond a certain stage of decay, it should
be demolished. Some areas might benefit from selective clearance
which would "open up" the back to back streets.
7.6. Local authorities should establish
a register of approved landlords; All landlords should be
registered. Government legislation is desperately needed here
in the north.
7.7. What measures should be taken to
deal with the problem of negative equity? It is interesting
that this issue is the last item on the list. For owner occupiers
living in a low demand area, negative equity is the most significant
factor preventing them from selling their homes at a realistic
price in order to move on. In an increasingly expensive housing
market, owner occupiers who may be in a financial position to
"move up the property ladder" are unable to do so and
are excluded from the on going property market altogether. Government
funding assistance should be made available to owner-occupiers
who want to move in the form of a one off payment to cover the
negative equity shortfall. The only options currently available
to owner-occupiers are to move away and rent the property out,
or to sell at a substantial loss.
In the medium and longer term, empty homes in
a neighbourhood are extremely detrimental to the well being of
the community and to local amenities. There is a clear cycle of
events involving empty homes and irresponsible private landlords,
which destroys neighbourhoods and communities in a very short
time. Landlords stand to make significant gains from the situation
at the expense of local government, owner-occupiers and the community
as a whole. The potentially high returns and the absence of any
accountability attract criminal elements into the business with
corresponding increase in crime and lawlessness, which the Police
are unable to deal with. Under current legislation, it is virtually
impossible to trace the owners of badly neglected properties.
This is a major contributing factor in the decline of formerly
viable neighbourhoods and communities. The laws applying to registration
of property under £10k in value must be addressed urgently,
and landlords must be made accountable for the condition of their
properties with heavy penalties for those who let property fall
Regeneration initiatives should take existing
properties into account and be carried out with proper consultation
with local community and residents organizations. Current regeneration
initiatives tend to work in partnership with property development
companies whose primary interests are to maximize profit rather
than to improve and develop existing communities.
Local government powers to compulsorily purchase
and deal with neglected properties should be extended in order
that the property can be either demolished or brought back into
use, and occupied by responsible tenants.
The issue of negative equity must be addressed
in order that owner occupiers can have proper access to the existing
property market and be able to make their homes available to first
time buyers at a realistic market price should they choose to
If the current situation regarding empty properties
and irresponsible private landlords is allowed to continue, the
resulting destruction of communities and subsequent increase in
crime and lawlessness will pose a severe threat to the viability
of towns and cities in the North of England. It will also significantly
undermine public confidence in the credibility of local and national
government, the Police, the law and the political process in general.
The seriousness of the current situation here cannot be overstated,
and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
This section gives some comments and short accounts
of experience of living in low demand areas. Names are withheld
to protect witnesses from reprisals.
"Your house becomes un-saleable and you're
The dealers move in; "Shortly after we
bought the house I noticed a great deal of activity around a formerly
empty property along the street. There was constant traffic day
and night, and people hanging about on the street waiting for
the dealer to turn up. They were the most desperate looking individuals
I have ever seen and were obviously eyeing up the houses in the
street for burglary. When the dealer turned up in a large white
Mercedes, packets were handed out and money changed hands. It
was unbelievably blatant. One of the neighbours said he'd seen
a gun in the house. I phoned the police several times but they
seemed to be unable to do anything. In the end the neighbours
got together and threatened the dealers with physical violence
and they left. Another house was used by prostitutes with the
associated traffic and noise at night. Again the police were powerless
to do anything about it".
"I challenged a gang of youths who were
throwing bricks at an empty house to smash the windows. One of
them demanded money from me, threatening to do my house if I didn't
"The police here are no longer in touch
with the community. They seem powerless to tackle the problems
here. They take hours to respond to reported crimes, and turn
up long after the crime has been committed. Furthermore, most
people here live in fear of reprisals from the `criminal community'
if they involve the police in any way. There is a serious problem
here about the role of the police in the community and how effective
they can be under current legislation".
Reprisals: "A neighbour reported the attempted
theft of a car to the police and challenged the youths breaking
into the vehicle. He was attacked. The police arrived two hours
later. The following night his front windows were bricked in and
the next night the tyres on his car were slashed and his rear
windows bricked. He has since left the area".
"The only effective organization for dealing
with antisocial neighbours is the `Neighbourhood nuisance' which
is operated by Private Sector Housing. They actually respond to
reported crimes and seem to have powers to get things done".
"My car was pushed up the road and burned
out on the Thursday night. At the weekend I was burgled, and lost
some irreplaceable musical equipment of about £3,000 in value.
The stolen property wasn't insured since property and contents
insurance here is beyond my means."
"It is only a matter of time before
a child is killed here in the street by a joyrider".