AN empty homes ‘scout’ is being used by Milton Keynes Council to track down the owners of empty houses and help combat the housing shortage.
Jim Murray, an officer who has worked in the environmental health department for many years, has been seconded to the council’s private sector housing team.
His role is to identify empty residential privately owned properties, and bring them back into use.
Although the council has powers to cordon off a property, force absentee landlords to make their properties safe – or even demolish them in the worst cases – it wants to encourage people to bring their houses back up to a suitable standard, so they can be rented out to relieve the pressure of housing needs.
The council has also launched a new scheme whereby owners of empty properties can apply for a low cost empty homes loan. Then, working with a reputable Housing Association the property can be rented out at an affordable rent or go on the councils Private Sector Leasing Scheme.
And as Jim explained, sometimes the simplest methods of tracking down the owners are the easiest.
“Quite simply, talking with the neighbours often brings the best results. I hear some interesting things, such as ‘oh, he’s gone to live in America’ or – just as intriguingly – ‘yes, he lives just down the road!, he said.
But as much as each house tells a tale and throws up an interesting anecdote, there can be a sinister side to properties being left empty.
“In the worst cases, empty houses attract vandals, squatters, drug users, or even arsonists,” added Jim.
“The gardens are often used for fly-tipping and dumping of waste, which in turn can attract vermin.”
Jim’s background makes in dealing with noise complaints makes him ideally suited for face to face contact with people – often in difficult situations. He has several theories as to why people let properties become empty.
“Often there has been an unfortunate end to a relationship, or sadly one of the partners has died and a house simply holds too many unpleasant memories for the remaining person. Other people may have been left properties in wills, and they simply don’t know what to do with them. ” he added.