Feeling Empty - Why EDMOs can bring people back to properties

Article

15 March, 2010

It has recently been reported that Bolton Council has become the first local authority in the North of England to make use of an Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) in order to take control of a privately owned property, make necessary repairs to it and make it available for residential accommodation.

The purpose of the EDMO is to attempt to bring vacant properties back into residential use in scenarios where demand for accommodation is high in a particular area and to address the associated problems of empty properties.

The Bolton EDMO was said to have been only the third final EDMO issued in the country. As such, it is a rarely used tool which, although requiring a long period of time to elapse before it becomes applicable, can be an effective means of tackling void properties.

What is an EDMO?

In a similar manner to other kinds of management order, the EDMO had two forms, namely interim and final. They can only be used by local housing authorities and are not available to Registered Social Landlords.

Under Part 4 of the Housing Act 2004, an interim EDMO permits local authorities to, with the consent of the owner, take appropriate steps in order to securing the dwelling's use in the future. Interim EDMOs can last for up to a maximum of 12 months.

A final EDMO entails the local authority taking over control of the property and carrying out work to it with the ultimate aim of making it available for renting out in the future.

How are EDMOs applied for?

An interim EDMO can only be made with the authorisation of the residential property tribunal. In determining whether to grant the order, the local authority must take into account the rights of the owner of the property in addition to the interests of the public at large.

Before such an order is applied for, the relevant local authority will need to make reasonable efforts to notify the property owner of the intended action and to find out what steps, if any, are being taken to ensure that the property is occupied.

For an interim EDMO to be granted, the tribunal must be satisfied that:

  • the property has been wholly unoccupied for at least 6 months;
  • there is no reasonable prospect of the property becoming occupied in the near future;
  • if an interim EDMO was to be made, there is a reasonable prospect of the property becoming occupied;
  • the local authority have complied with the requirement to make reasonable efforts to contact the property owner; and
  • any prescribed requirements have been complied with.

Again, the tribunal will have to take into account the potentially competing interests of the property owner, the wider community and any third party affected by the decision.

If at the end of the interim period the local authority is of the opinion that an EDMO is still necessary for the property to become or continue to be let out and all necessary steps have been taken under the interim EDMO, it may make a final EDMO. This in effect replaces the interim EDMO. Consideration must again be given by the local authority to the interests of stakeholders and also to whether it would be appropriate for compensation to be paid by them to any party affected by the order.

Local Housing Authority Duties

When either an interim or final EDMO is granted, the relevant local housing authority has a number of obligations which it must comply with.

In relation to the former, as soon as is practicable, the authority must take any appropriate steps in order for the property to become and remain occupied. It is also incumbent upon the authority to take other steps deemed suitable as to maintaining the proper management of the property pending the making of a final EDMO or the interim EDMO being revoked. The Housing Act 2004 states that this includes ensuring that while the interim EDMO is in force, reasonable provision is made for insuring the property against destruction or damage by fire or other causes.

If a final EDMO is made, must comply with the same obligations as with interim EDMOs. There is also the additional requirement of reviewing from time to time:

  • the operation of the EDMO and the management scheme within it;
  • whether, if the property is unoccupied, there are any steps which could be taken for the property to become occupied; and
  • whether keeping the EDMO in force is necessary to secure or maintain the occupation of the property.

If there are any variations which could be made by the authority, the 2004 Act states that these changes must be made. If the dwelling is unoccupied and such a review concludes that there are no such steps which can be taken and keeping the EDMO in force is unnecessary, then the authority must proceed to revoke the EDMO.

Compensation

It is available (under section 138 of the 2004 Act) for a third party to apply to a residential property tribunal, whilst an interim EDMO is in force, for an order which requires the relevant local housing authority to pay compensation for any interference with their rights, in consequence of the order being made.

It is also possible for a third party to contact the local housing authority directly about a final EDMO, requesting that they consider whether such a payment should be made. If this arises, the authority must notify the third party of their decision as soon as is practicable. If it is decided that a payment should be made, the management scheme in the final EDMO so that the amount is specified and for provisions to be made for its payment.

Summary

The potential use of both interim and final EDMOs is relatively wide and can offer a viable solution to the problem of void properties in areas of high demand for housing. Although it may not provide an instantaneous result, they offer local housing authorities real power to take positive steps in their areas.

For more information and assistance on these issues, please contact the Housing Department at Forbes Solicitors on 01772 220200 or contact David Maguire by email.

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