Two homes, two MPs and an EDMO

EDMOs, a remarkable power given to local authorities under Housing Act 2004 to take control of an abandoned or unused residential property and let it (and charge the owner for most of the related costs of doing so), have been used remarkably rarely – I am informed some 29 decisions on orders have been made in the RPT in England since the Act came into force.

Which raises a question or two over the threatened thirtieth order. Married Labour MPs Alan and Anne Keen, who were exposed in the Telegraph expenses porn spreads as both claiming for their joint second home – a flat in Waterloo – to the tune of £30,000 a year for the last four years, are facing a threatened EDMO on their property in Brentford. The Conservative controlled council are threatening an order on the basis that the property has remained unoccupied for 7 months. A Liberal Democrat councillor (and prospective Lib Dem candidate for MP for one of the Keen’s constituencies. I’m not saying which), Andrew Dakers observed:

that the windows at the back of the Keens’s main home were boarded up and that there was paint splashed on the inside of the upstairs windows.

which brings up worrying images of someone’s Lib Dem Counciillor hanging around the back alley (do they have back alleys in Hounslow?) peering in through the windows. People get arrested for less.

Between starting this post and writing this bit, the Keens have responded that the property was not unoccupied, just being renovated (those paint marks and all) – the BBC story has been updated – but apparently will still need to make a formal response to Hounslow Council.

Is it just me, or does this story make all concerned look more than somewhat ridiculous? EDMOs are not used, despite their real potential utility. How many EDMOs has Hounslow sought before this, one wonders – and as far as my cursory searching told me, the answer was none, but I have been corrected – there were two in 2008.

Given that the property has only been allegedly unoccupied for seven months, was apparently known to be the MP’s, and has councillors personally commenting on the state of its rear windows, that it seem be cynical publicity seeking on the part of the Tory Council and on the part of Mr ‘hiding in the shrubbery’ Dakers, the prospective Lib Dem MP, while the Keens are hardly covered in expenses glory on their two homes arrangements. Lovely.

For any Local Authority people reading this, we are genuinely curious as to why EDMOs aren’t used more often. Why not? Do let us know in the comments or in private email.

Update: The property has been squatted by a group apparently intending to make it a ‘refugee centre’. (Thanks Jim). I think this ends the EDMO, as the property has to be unoccupied – lawfully or otherwise – for it to go ahead. But I guess the Keens have other more pressing problems…

433276Photo from Indymedia.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Housing law - All, Possession and tagged , , , .

0 Comments

  1. I count at least 29 EDMO’s made in England – so you might want to ask your reliable source(s) where the figure of 10 comes from.

    I don’t think your conclusion about the political nature of this story is warranted. Contrary to the BBC story (and after all they presumably don’t have staffers to check their facts) local councils don’t have a power to make EDMO’s – they have to apply to Residential Property Tribunals to do so and before they do that they are supposed to consult with the owner of the property.

    What the BBC are reporting then is the first stage in that process (the consultation). There hasn’t been an application yet. I don’t know how many cases never reach the application stage either because the owner does something constructive with the property or points out to the council that the property is not empty.

    A lack of Hounslow EDMO’s is therefore not evidence that they haven’t been pursuing an active policy, its just we might not have seen any trace of it. I can see an FOI request coming on.

    Looking at the RPTS site, Hounslow obtained two EDMO’s in 2008, so they clearly aren’t ignoring the power.

    The weird thing about EDMO’s is that their use is patchy. Norwich (for example) has 6 EDMOs in 2008 and 2 in 2007. Only Lewisham (6 in 2007) comes close to that. The vast majority of councils have never obtained any. 29 EDMOs is not many, about half of those are accounted for by 2 councils. As far as I can see only 2 other councils (Hounslow and Southend) have obtained more than 1.

    • My otherwise ‘reliable’ source will have to explain him or her self ;-)

      I’ve made some edits to the post in view of your boundless knowledge of the HA 2004 and thank you. That said, I still think this looks cynical. 29 EDMOs is still very few in view of the scale of the problem that they were supposed to remedy. Anyone care to let us know why they aren’t used more often?

    • Yes. The 29 figure is also wrong (though I’m quite sure its more than 7) that’s the number of RPTS decisions I was able to count. The perils of posting late at night.

      Alas the number of orders requires a read through of a lot of PDF documents all on different pages. A job for an idle moment (which are in short supply). It would be interesting to have some stats. Also its hard to tell whether any of those are final orders or merely interim ones.

    • Yes, they surely must, Schedule 7, para. 5(4) for an interim EDMO, final EDMO’s are governed by a management scheme but in those cases yes as well.

      From a council point of view the running of an EDMO should be approximately cash neutral (apart from obtaining it in the first place), their reasonable expenditure on management, repair etc can be recovered from the relevant proprietor.

      There’s more complexity, but that’s about right.

  2. An EDMO is a very powerful deterrent to keeping your property empty.
    Like all legal stuff EDMOs take time and it is prudent to demonstrate attempts to avoid legal action. So, normally the property is brought back into use during the EDMO process.
    After all, which rational person would leave a property empty and forego income, particularly if they are likely to lose control over the asset for a period of 12 months? There are lots of grants and lettings schemes that make it easy for landlords to bring their properties back into use.
    It would be more helpful to count the number of EDMOs started, which do not require legal action to be taken.

  3. Unfortunately an FoI request is the only way to do it, although some LAs may have info on their website.
    But, I know of one city that has started EDMO action targetting more than 60 properties, and in every case the property has been brought back into use before court action was required.

  4. Yes, your source is a bit out of date. When I checked the first year of EDMOs, the total was 11, of which 5 were in Lewisham. 29 now sounds likely.

    No doubt bureaucratic inertia accounts for there not being a few more than there have been -but only a few.

    In addition to the reasons given above, the only way an EDMO could possibly be revenue neutral for a local authority would be in the case of a house or flat in substantially better condition than is usual. It is little more than the sort of declaratory “soundbite” legislation currently fashionable and takes no heed of the very rapid and accelerating dilapidation which sets in as soon as premises are left unoccupied.

    Secondly, in areas where squatting is common it operates as a prophylactic
    against EDMOs. Section 133(2)sets out the basic conditions as follows:

    (a) the dwelling is wholly unoccupied, and
    (b) the relevant proprietor is not a public sector body.

    “Wholly unoccupied” means that no part is occupied, whether lawfully or unlawfully.

    The fear of an EDMO (real or illusory) has proved a useful negotiating lever for some squatters. Of course, the sort of basic maintenance squatters carry out is also effective in at least arresting, if not reversing, dilapidation

    An intersting sidelight on Weaver is provided by the definition of “public sector body”. It’s in Sched. 14, para 2(1) and (b) is ..a Registered Social Landlord! Not one of the hallmarks of public sector activity listed by Elias LJ in the lead judgement, but might have been. If RSLs continue to insist they are not public bodies, the least they could do is make sure that such a scandalous percentage of their stock is not standing empty. As things stand, they seem to want their cake and eat it -to be private bodies but still enjoy the public sector statutory protection from EDMOs.

  5. Little did I know when I posted the above comment last night that the house in question had been squatted by housing activists about 24 hours previously. The media pack is expected this evening, so you heard it here first (unless you’re a reader of Indymedia where it’s on the newswire at
    https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/06/433257.html).

    The media is rather the point in this occupation, I gather, particularly the fact that many people have no home, whilst others like the Keens apparently have “spares” surplus to requirements.

    The squatters’ statement says:

    “We want to get back something that has been taken from us in the expenses scandal. Everyone pays taxes, either directly or through VAT on their shopping – we’ve all been taken from. There are 10,000 people on the housing waiting list in Hounslow alone – and people like the Keens are spending our money on keeping houses empty.”

  6. The Torygraph reported this morning, in an article on cut price property deals allegedly offered to the Royal Family by the Crown Estate, that Bracknell Forest Council is looking at Prince Andrew and Fergie’s former home Sunninghill Park for possible action under the Housing Act.

    • An easily lettable estate, I’d have thought. After all, there is a real shortage of 15 bedroom accommodation in the area…

  7. Maybe they are not used more often because of how immoral they are. If someone owns something it should not be the government’s right at any level to say whether the owner has to use it. They wouldn’t do so for a car or a table or an oven, so there is no logical reason why they should be able to do so for a house. It is authortarian intrusion into the private lives of decent individual citizens. Authorities have a moral right to insist an area is kept up to a standard, and ensure properties are maintained, but beyond that it is clearly wrong to be trying to force folk into ensuring a property is used. It’s not as if councils only threaten those owners of large numbers of empty properties (such as the council), but they are willing to stress individuals who merely want to bring their property up to decent standard in their own time, and then decide what they want to do with it. If government had a shred of understanding as to what is right and wrong, this law, seemingly designed to abuse the decent, would never have been passed. It needs repealing as soon as possible.

    • Not really – it’s pretty easy to avoid this if you ever look at your mail. Plus, land isn’t the same as chattels.

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