Houses abandoned and left to go to wrack and ruin could be transformed into homes once again as city chiefs use powers to take charge of problem properties.
Sunderland City Council has put in place an agreement which will allow it to enforce the sale of houses under land and property laws.
The move will help the authority recover debt it is owed, such as outstanding council tax, and find buyers who will only be able to purchase the house on the condition they carry out work to make it fit to live in again within a reasonable amount of time.
Any money left over once costs and debts are covered will go back to the errant owner.
The council says renovating the buildings and returning them back to use will give the area they are in a boost, with a lack of action likely to lead to further deterioration and an increase in costs of repairs.
It also believes using the Enforced Sale of Property (ESP) powers will reduce flytipping, arson, vandalism, pest problems and antisocial behaviour.
I think this will be another tool in the council’s arsenal of tackling any properties that are empty.Councillor Michael Mordey
It believes it will make streets look better, increase housing standards, deal with long-term problem houses and could help create desirable homes for the elderly or vulnerable.
The project has been welcomed by councillors, who hope the move will help improve the communities they serve.
Michael Mordey, cabinet member for city services and a Hendon ward member, said: “I think this will be another tool in the council’s arsenal of tackling any properties that are empty.
“It could help and have a significant impact on the Hendon ward, which has more empty properties than other wards.
“I recommend the use of these powers and I have a long list of empty properties in Hendon to pass on.”
The council has set out a criteria each home will have to meet:
• The property must have been empty for two or more years, appears to have been abandoned or is a source of frequent complaints;
• The house is likely to deteriorate and attract more concerns;
• It is likely to become more expensive for the council to secure;
• The owner owes more than £500 to the council following the remedial works.
If the owner appears or is known to be vulnerable or disadvantaged, officers will look at whether other agencies can help them and whether an ESP is appropriate.
It says it has considered using management orders, demolition and other ways of tackling empty houses, but they have not always been the best way to deal with the issues and take longer to claw back debt.
The council has said a risk analysis will be carried out on a case by case basis, and if a property does not sell, it will be valued and other ways of selling it, such as auction, could be looked at.