Scottish Government urged to seize empty private homes and fix housing emergency

Campaigners have called for tough new measures to force owners to sell empty properties in a bid to solve the housing shortage.

There are now more than 117,000 habitable houses or flats across the country with no one living in them, including 24,061 second homes, according to Scottish Government figures.

Of that total, 46,217 have lain empty for more than six months and 28,280 for more than a year.

Last month, the Scottish Government declared an unprecedented housing emergency because of the shortages of affordable properties.

Local authorities can impose a second council tax levy on privately-owned homes that are lying empty and issue compulsory purchase orders.

But the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP), part of the housing charity Shelter, want the Scottish Parliament to bring in tougher measures which would force owners to either sell their properties or rent them out.

Assistant director Gordon MacRae said many empty houses can also fall into disrepair and become an eyesore for residents.

He said: “We are hoping they will use the upcoming Housing Bill to bring that forward as a matter of urgency. We need to be acting differently in the face of an unprecedented housing emergency.

“Many of these empty houses can be brought back into use relatively easily.

“However the longer they remain empty, the harder that becomes.”

SEHP have set up a hotline where neighbours can report empty houses or owners get help to bring properties back into use.

The biggest number of long-term empty homes can be found in Edinburgh with 7200. There’s 5594 in Aberdeen, 3390 in the Highlands, 2696 in Glasgow and 1067 in Dundee.

They can fall empty due to owners dying, going into care, legal disputes or because they cannot afford repair costs.

Last year, SEHP helped get 1257 properties back into use with some sold and others rented out.

Past successes include Cal Hunter and Claire Segeran, who bought a derelict six-bedroom villa in Dunoon, Argyll and Bute, by mistake at an auction five years ago.

SEHP helped them with the renovation to turn it into a family home and flats for rent. SEHP also helped Karis Beattie and her partner fund the renovation of a croft in Cromore on Lewis which had remained empty since 1945.

The couple managed to obtain a grant of £38,000 and a vat discount on the building costs, which enabled them to restore the property.

A former police station and house in Langholm in the Borders, which had been empty for 15 years was recently converted into four flats for rent.

Bringing empty homes back into circulation is seen as cheaper than building. It can cost £25,000 to renovate an empty property, compared to £120,000 to build a new one.

A record 30,000 Scots are now classed as homeless and living in temporary accommodation, 9585 of them children.

Sean Clerkin, of the Scottish Tenants Organisation, added: “We need the Scottish Government to undertake a housing revolution in Scotland."

Housing Minister Paul McLennan said: "The Housing Emergency is one of the defining issues of a generation and requires Scottish, UK and local government working together.

“We will invest nearly £600 million in affordable housing in 2024-25, including up to an additional £80 million over this financial year and next to enable the acquisition of existing homes.

“Our £3.7 million investment in the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is making a difference with more than 9,000 privately owned homes returned to use since 2010.

“We recognise that there are complex reasons why homes remain empty, and that dedicated empty homes officers are essential in building relationships with owners to help resolve these.”

Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, West Dunbartonshire and Borders have all declared housing emergencies.

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