Upper Street, Islington

Upper Street, Islington

Owners of empty properties in a north London borough could face fines, or even prison under new proposals.

Islington Council wants to halt the rise of new homes sold as investments and left empty – so-called “buy-to-leave” properties. The council believes a third or more of new property developments are ‘potentially vacant’.

But critics warn that it is difficult to know why properties are empty.

Under the proposals, new homes could not be left unoccupied or unused for longer than three months and would have to be occupied for at least 14 days in any three-month period. Any property going against this rule would be subject to legal action, such as a fine, seizure of the property or a prison term.

James Murray, the council’s executive member for housing and development, said the proposals were the first of their kind in the UK.

He said: “Where this starts is with the principle that we have a housing crisis in London and we desperately need more homes.

“A lot of these empty houses are new properties that are going up in flashy towers with concierges at the front desks and it’s very hard to get accurate data of what is going on inside.”

To avoid prosecution, property owners would have to prove that the property is not vacant through the provision of utility bills.

But Robert Jones, director of Property Investments UK, warned the plans will not be easy to police.

He said: “There’s a whole host of reasons why a property might be empty – not just overseas investors – it might be empty due to refurbishment or probate, it could be due to ill health.”

Mr Jones added that it would be very difficult to implement and that leaving a property empty does not always make sense, as owners would want to utilise the flat as a rental property.

The new proposals would only apply to new properties, not to second hand homes. Consultation on the proposals begins on the 8 December until 30 January.

Original article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-30342050