The effect of empty properties on local neighbourhoods

November, 2022

If you live in England, the chances are that within a short distance of your home stands one of England’s 240,000 empty properties. Amazingly, this total, based on council tax payment data, doesn’t include properties where both the premises themselves and responsibility for paying council tax have been completely abandoned; meaning the true number of the England’s empty properties could be even higher.

Why are there empty properties?

Properties can stand empty for many reasons, including these surprisingly common ones:

  • Inherited properties caught up in probate or Power-of-Attorney issues.
  • Properties once linked to an area’s business or industry, which has ceased to trade or has relocated.
  • Properties purchased for investment purposes, where the owner wishes neither to rent nor sell until the prices for either have picked up enough to make financial sense. Given the unstable economic climate, this situation’s surprisingly common when there’s negative equity in a mortgage or when a sub-clause in the deeds or local council issues may restrict rental options.
  • Housing association or council properties awaiting refurbishment or redevelopment, sometimes as a large-scale local development, leading to long waits whilst issues such as funding and permission are sorted.
  • Properties compulsorily purchased for an area’s planned redevelopment which then falls through.
  • Properties caught in a cycle of difficult finances for the owner, such as when costs of repair or renovation outstrip the property’s value.

What’s the effect on local neighbourhoods of an uninhabited property?

An empty property can become a target for criminal activity, such as metal theft and vandalism, other criminal / anti-social activity, illegal occupation by squatters or drug-related crimes, an empty property can heavily influence the crime rate of an area by being an “out of sight, out of mind” venue for illegal activities including drug dealing and prostitution.

Socially recognised threat to the community: Abandoned properties do have a negative impact on neighbourhoods. If you’re lucky, this will be at a “superficial” environmental level which comes with unsightly abandoned rubbish and overgrown gardens which encourage vermin. At worst, the threat from illegal activity, as outlined above, can lead to greater insidious harm and significantly impact on the immediate community, for example: through the accidental, or deliberate, setting of fires; a rise in the incidents of drug-related crime such as burglary and theft; or the presence of addicts, pimps and kerb-crawlers.

What steps can you take to ensure a vacant homes security?

Protect against the elements, as weathering can cause disrepair and vulnerability to intruders extremely quickly.

Install sufficient security. The level and type of security needed will depend on the type of property and neighbourhood. For some, leaving a key with a close, trustworthy neighbour may be enough, whilst for others anything from installing alarms, security lighting or cameras to employing an accommodation agency or Security Company to make frequent checks on the property may be needed.

Maintain the property. Despite all of your best efforts against weathering and intruders, there will be incidents and weather which weaken your property’s security. Perform checks at least annually, on plumbing, heating and electrics. Go up in the loft to check the roof and outside to check and clear out the gutters etc. Ideally a bi-annual routine of spring and autumn maintenance will help to keep the property secure and well maintained. If you can’t do this effectively yourself, employ a reliable property management company or builder to do this for you.

By taking measures to protect any empty property you have, you’re not only contributing to the long-term upkeep and value of the property itself, but also to the fortunes of the neighbourhood and community it stands in – whether you’re planning to live there or not!

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