Who is responsible for derelict buildings or structures?

24th July 2018

Who is responsible for derelict buildings or structures?

If a building falls into disrepair or becomes an eyesore, what rights do neighbours have to force the owner to secure, renovate or, at the very least, tidy it up?
Impacting the value of your home
A run-down property with boarded-up windows, old mattresses in the front garden, and weeds climbing up the walls has an impact on the value of surrounding properties. In fact, it is estimated that a run-down or derelict property could deduct up to 12% off the value of surrounding houses. That means you could end up losing thousands of pounds on the value of your property (as well as finding it exceptionally difficult to sell in the first place), due to a nearby house having fallen into disrepair.
Property can become vacant for any number of reasons. As people struggle to meet increasingly high mortgage costs, it could be that the property has been repossessed and is currently owned by a bank or building society, rather than an individual. Up to 125 homes a day are being repossessed, and it can be months before the bank or lender gets around to selling the property.
However, residents do not need to simply 'put up' with empty properties that are becoming eyesores. Nearly all councils now have an 'Empty Property Officer' whose job it is to deal with complaints about empty properties. They are there to act as a mediator between property owners and their neighbours to sort out issues that can lead to conflict.
Empty Property Officers usually work in the Building Control department, who are happy to come out and visit sites that are causing a problem. Derelict properties often attract vandals, so it is important that the owners are forced to secure the property to prevent it becoming even more of an eyesore or, potentially, dangerous. After a visit by an Empty Property Officer, a property owner will have 48 hours to make the building secure. If an owner cannot be located then the council will lock and gate the building to stop squatters and vandals accessing the property.
If a property stays empty for more than six months, the council may be able to make an 'Empty Dwelling Management Order'. This means the council could effectively take over the property and let it out to tenants. Therefore, if you are a property owner or, for example, have inherited a run-down property, it is important to contact the council straight away to make it clear that you are the owner and that you are taking steps to sort out the condition and security of the property.
A danger to the public
Derelict buildings should be secured and made as safe as possible, but again, it is the owner's responsibility if any injuries occur as a result of falling masonry, jagged metal or broken glass, for example. As long as the owner has made every reasonable effort to make sure the building is secure, and clear 'no trespassing' warnings have been put up, they should be covered legally if a trespasser is injured while on the site.
However, it is also up to owners to make sure that any properties which border public rights of way such as roads or pavements are also safe and secure. If something falls from a derelict building and injures a passer-by or damages their property then the owner can be held both legally and financially responsible.
If you are concerned about the impact of a derelict building on the value of your property or are concerned that an abandoned property constitutes a hazard or is potentially dangerous, your first port of call should be your local council. If you get no positive response from this initial contact then the next step should be to contact a solicitor or legal representative who specialises in property law.

Note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

If you have any questions on the matters raised in this article, please contact our property department on 01491 572138 or at mail@mercerslaw.co.uk

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