When new housing is proposed for greenfield or green belt areas I am often asked about empty properties and what’s being done about them. There are a number of reasons why properties are empty and some are part of the churn that goes on in the housing market so there are always a large number as part of normal turnover.

Returning empty properties into use is part of the Vision for Leeds 2011/30. The aim is to bring back into use 3,200 long-term empty homes in the private sector every year until 2016. A target to reduce the net number of long term empty homes by 300 (5%) by March 2013 was beaten.

Leeds has monitored empty homes in the city since 2005. Through intervention with owners the number has fallen from approx. 12,000 long term empty in 2005 to 5776 in March 2012. This work has also shown that the number of long term empty homes remains fairly constant as a proportion of the total figure. In March 2012 long term empty properties in the private sector had fallen to 2.14% as a percentage of the total number of homes.

The average time to re-let a property of any size in Leeds is 84 days, a two-bedroomed property is 66 days. Since 2005 a steady reduction in empty properties from 12,000 to 6,000 in 2012 has been achieved.

Leeds City Council has been responsible for 3000 long term empty homes returning to use each year for the past 4 years, the highest figure for any local authority in England & Wales and greater than the combined total for the rest of Yorkshire.

The Council is also taking a number of actions to ensure this positive work is continued through a number of changes including charging 100% council tax on all empty properties (previously 50%), identifying empty homes quickly and contacting the owners to offer help to them to bring the property back into use. They also work with landlords and the voluntary sector to match tenants to suitable properties and reductions in rent where they bring the property back into use.