The impact of empty homes is always felt greatest by the communities in which the homes are located. But there is a great deal that people individually, or communities together, can do to get empty homes back into use. Community action ranges from requesting action from the council to the community buying and dealing with the empty property themselves.
Councils have the ability to help and have significant powers to deal with empty homes. However, the issue of empty homes will have a different level of importance between one council and another. Councils in areas with relatively few empty homes will probably commit fewer resources to the issue than councils in areas with large numbers of empty homes and high levels of housing need. Communities can help by reporting empty homes. Many councils will only be able to deal with cases referred to them. Even where councils have a proactive programme of dealing with empty homes, it is likely that empty homes that are reported to them will be given greater priority than those that are not.
Advice on campaigning on empty homes can be found here.
Community action is always more effective with good information. Knowing who owns an empty property is obviously essential if you are planning to negotiate with the owner directly. Knowing how many homes are empty is important in campaigning for action.
Should you need to find information that is not available from any of these sources you may be able to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain more information.
Communities may wish to take ownership of empty homes to ensure they are brought back into use. The process of negotiating and purchasing a property is no different to the process followed when an individual buys a house. However there are a number of different ways in which communities can set up an organisation to own and manage the property. Advice on the range and types of organisation - from housing co-operatives to incorporated companies - and how to set them up can be found on the Self-Help-Housing website.
If the empty homes are owned by a public sector body, the community may be able to force the sale of the property through a legal device called the Community Right to Reclaim Land.
In the future it may even be possible for the community to have first refusal on buying an empty property which has been put up for sale through the Community Right to Reclaim Land. The ability to do this is currently in proposals called the Community Right to Buy which the government is consulting on.
If people have been occupying property for many years without owning it, it is sometimes possible for them to obtain a transfer of ownership wiithout sale. The process is called Adverse Possession.