My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Further steps in delivering our commitment to help communities tackle bad landlords and long-term abandoned, empty properties come into force tomorrow.
We continue to encourage councils to work with residents and landlords to ensure that local communities are not being blighted by the actions of a minority. We also want to see a thriving private rented sector offering good quality and well managed homes.
We have already required councils to implement a national licensing scheme for houses in multiple occupation and to consider the benefit of discretionary licensing in their locality. As part of the implementation of provisions in Sections 72 and 95 of the Housing Act 2004, from tomorrow councils will be able to prosecute landlords or other persons managing or in control of licensable houses in multiple occupation who have failed to apply for their licence. Operating without a licence is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £20,000. Tenants and councils will also have the opportunity of recovering any rent or housing benefit paid over the previous 12 months.
Also from tomorrow councils will be able to apply to residential property tribunals for an interim empty-dwelling management order on long-term abandoned or derelict properties. Some 300,000 private-sector homes in Britain have been empty for over six months and many lie empty and abandoned for years at a time, causing considerable distress for neighbours and local communities. Empty-dwelling management orders can be granted only where there is no reasonable prospect of it being occupied and where other routes have been tried to work with the property owner to bring it back into use. Exceptions are in place to protect owners who have good reason to keep their dwelling unoccupied—for example temporary absence, second homes, properties on the market and inherited properties, which are exempt for a further six months after grant of representation (probate) is obtained. The tribunal must also consider the effect the order would have on the rights of the property owner and take into account the interests of the community.
The department will tomorrow also publish guidance to local authorities on the use of empty-dwelling management orders on the departmental website at www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1501339, and has previously published an advisory booklet for property owners.