TOWN hall chiefs are to use new powers to buy private homes which have been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair.
And later this year, city councillors look set to consider scrapping a rule which means an empty house is exempt from council tax – with the possibility of charging one and half times the usual council tax being mooted.
The Enforced Sales Procedure has been approved by Lancaster City Council’s cabinet and would enable the council to buy a property through the courts in order to sell it at auction to a new owner.
The council would be able to use the procedure if there is a charge on the property because its owner has failed to pay for works carried out by the authority.
This happens when owners fail to comply with a notice to complete the work.
A report considered by councillors says that to be considered for the enforced sales procedure a home would have to have been empty for at least six months and “derelict, severely neglected and/or in need of substantial repairs”.
It adds: “Long term problematic empty homes are a major cause for concern.
“They represent waste, financial expense and missed opportunities.
“They can blight communities, attract vandals and squatters and tie up resources of local authorities and the emergency services.
“This is an unacceptable situation, especially considering the shortage of supply of affordable housing.”
The report says the procedure is quicker than using bureaucratic compulsory purchase orders.
The council estimates that there are around 900 empty homes throughout the Lancaster district but expects to use the new procedure only three or four times during the first year of operation.
Risk assessments would be carried out to prioritise which homes to sell first but use of the power would be a last resort.
At the cabinet meeting, Coun Karen Leytham said: “A lot of authorities have already adopted these powers but hopefully they will be a deterrent and we will not have to use them.
“Hopefully this might send a shiver down the spines of people who are out there and should know better.
“It is an absolute disgrace that we have got these properties just standing empty.”
The council’s head of financial services, Nadine Muschamp, said a report would be produced later this year looking at introducing council tax charges of up to 150 per cent on empty homes.