From Monday the 23rd November to Friday 27th November is the National Week of Action on Empty Homes. The Empty Homes Agency (EHA) has reported that one in twenty properties has been unoccupied for over 6 months. That means that the number of empty properties has hit a record on one million. At the point of last year’s week of action the figure stood at about 760,000.
The Empty Homes Agency “is an independent campaigning charity, which exists to highlight the waste of empty property in England and works with others to devise and promote sustainable solutions to bring empty property back into use.”
It was set up in 1992 to try and match the plight of the homeless with the large amount of property standing empty. They do this through lobbying for policy changes, helping owners of empty homes to bring them back into use, running awareness campaigns and asking people to report empty properties.
There is of course the alternative. Simply Googling the words ‘uk house squatting’ returns over 100,000 responses and at the top is Wikipedia.
Squatters do have certain rights and the law around this issue has developed to try and keep property in productive use. A lot of property remains empty just as a capital investment. Empty properties quickly fall into disrepair, become eyesores and in the case of terraced properties can lead to problems for the neighbours. Some of these properties it seems are held by offshore companies for anonymous owners who, for tax reasons, do not wish to be identified.
The EHA want empty homes to be brought back into use by assisting the landlord or, where necessary, using legal means to force it.
Many owners of empty properties declare that it is their property so therefore their choice as to what happens to it. On the other side people are homeless so should be housed using these properties. Therein lies the moral dilemma (aside: Google dilemna and dilemma).
But once we have access to other people’s real estate property for the state to decide how it is used, where will it end? We have already seen the grab for money in dormant bank accounts. We are also demanding that speculators not be allowed to dictate fuel prices. At present there are tankers offshore waiting for the price of fuel to go up before they land the cargo. Should they be seized and the fuel sold at a ‘reasonable’ price? Should pharmaceutical companies be forced to hand over life saving drugs to help people in the third world who could not normally afford it?
Is ownership to be subordinated to the common good? Are we slowly and quietly becoming a deeply socialist country?
Deeper questions than I intended for this, but you get my drift.
Land, as is always stated, cannot be manufactured, it is finite. For me it should be used as well as it can be. The way around this for real estate property is to follow the route of Land Value Tax. It would then be financial suicide not to put land to good productive use by using it for agriculture, manufacturing, business or housing. There would then be no need for enforcing legislation and no room for squatters.
Having so many empty properties standing effectively outside the normal market also skews the prices. Bringing these properties back into use will help force the price reset that is needed for true stability to return to the housing market.