'Sort your property out or we'll have it': Stoke-on-Trent council's message to absent landlords
ABSENT landlords in areas council chiefs want to transform under a 'homes for £1' scheme have been warned they could lose ownership of their empty properties.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is threatening to use compulsory purchase orders against private landlords who fail to support the authority's regeneration project by continuing to leave houses empty.
The authority is to offer interest-free loans of up to £30,000 to private owners of empty properties in the Portland Street area of Cobridge and Bond Street area of Tunstall.
In return, owners will be expected to refurbish the properties and commit to living in them for five years.
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An initial 35 council-owned houses in Portland Street will also be sold for £1, with a £30,000 interest-free refurbishment loan being offered to families willing to move into them for five years.
But council leaders say the £3 million, Government-backed scheme to revive the areas could be derailed by private owners failing to get involved.
Council and Labour leader Mohammed Pervez said: "Clearly, while we can give absent landlords incentives to do these properties up there is no guarantee they will take them up.
"Unless we also address that issue there's no point selling our properties to residents and asking them to stay there for five years as they will face the problems we have there and end up wanting to move out again.
"We have to get the whole package right to improve these areas.
"We need to vigorously communicate that to owners and make sure they either take part in the scheme, improve the quality of properties, or be faced with a compulsory purchase order."
Val Bourne, the council's assistant director of housing services, added: "We'll encourage landlords to work with us but failing that we have the power to take properties away if landlords are not moving them forward.
"We will, where we have to, use our legal powers to take properties back."
The council has also confirmed it expects to be able to offer its £1 properties to applicants within six months.
It is drawing up a strict criteria for applicants, which will require them to be living and working in the city.
The project is designed to create stable communities in areas blighted by empty houses, anti-social behaviour and a high turnover of tenants.
Mr Pervez said: "We've got nearly 5,000 empty properties in the city, 2,000 of which have been empty for a long time.
"Against this we have a waiting list of 3,000. This is clearly not a good position to be in.
"Empty houses are an eyesore and blight neighbourhoods with anti-social behaviour, crime and vandalism."
Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for housing, said: "We had to find innovative ways of dealing with these properties.
"To address the issues of low demand and anti-social behaviour we had to come up with a new approach to reverse a spiral of decline."
Steven Pritchard, chairman of the Portland Street and Cobridge residents' association, said: "The council has had these powers for a while and it is something they should have done a long time ago.
"It is going to take time but these things will make a difference because the people coming in will have a stake in making sure the area improves.
"We welcome it but it is a cautious welcome because we're aware that, in the past, things have not been done properly."