London council calls for extra powers to take over millionaires' empty 'ghost homes'

A west London council has requested new powers to take over so-called 'ghost homes' and use them for council tenants when they are left unoccupied for long periods of time.

Kensington and Chelsea council's deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith has written to the housing minister to call for an overhaul of its powers to acquire unused houses.

Mr Smith said growing demands for social housing in the west London borough had been "framed by the Grenfell tragedy", which led to the deaths of 72 people and left hundreds of council tenants homeless in June 2017.

Kensington and Chelsea was said to have a "huge buy-to-leave investment market", meaning properties are bought and left empty, often to accrue value.

Mr Taylor-Smith said 621 properties in the area have been empty and unfurnished for more than two years, 347 of which are "amongst some of the most expensive in the borough", including one worth almost £30 million.

"At the same time, many residents are desperate for a place of their own, but cannot afford to rent or buy in the borough in which they were born, live and work," his letter continued.

"This disparity does not sit easily with the council's leadership team."

An Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) is required for a local authority to temporarily seize properties and offer them to social tenants, but Mr Taylor-Smith described it as "cumbersome, slow and expensive, making its use prohibitive".

The use of EDMOs was restricted in 2012 by then communities secretary Eric Pickles, limiting them to empty properties that have become "magnets for vandalism, squatters and other forms of anti-social behaviour" and had been empty for two years, according to a House of Commons Library briefing paper.

But Mr Taylor-Smith claimed the prerequisite for a council to demonstrate vandalism had curtailed the use of EDMOs.

"We believe that the burdens can be lightened and EDMOs financially incentivised such that it is easier, quicker and financially viable to target all empty properties that could and should be put to use to alleviate pressing housing needs," he wrote.

His proposal suggested offering a "favourable tax scheme" on rent income for owners of property if they agree to offer the premises to the local authority.

"Owners should not lose out. We want to collaborate with, not clobber, the property investor," Mr Taylor-Smith wrote.

The letter also requested that councils be able to levy a management fee to help cover the costs of taking over the homes.

RBKC owned Grenfell Tower and faced criticism after the fire amid accusations that it and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which ran the block, ignored repeated safety warnings from residents.

The length of time taken to rehouse survivors following the disaster was also condemned, with dozens forced to spend months in hotels.

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London council extra powers ghost homes
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