Council forces sale of private houses in attempt to improve neighbourhoods

Des res? A house in Highgate Lane, Goldthorpe is the first subject to a forced sale by Barnsley Council will go to the highest bidder with no reserve.
Des res? A house in Highgate Lane, Goldthorpe is the first subject to a forced sale by Barnsley Council will go to the highest bidder with no reserve.
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Owners of houses left unoccupied and neglected for years are being forced to sell in a new council crackdown which will see several homes in the town go to the highest bidder over the course of the summer, with no reserve price.

Barnsley Council has taken the radical step in an attempt to bring more homes onto the market but also to resolve problems caused by empty and neglected housing, with the first to hit the market, in Highgate Lane, Goldthorpe, the focus of rodent problems.

That house is understood to have been empty for 21 years before council officials took steps to force its sale, with the property now in the hands on an estate agent and open to bids on an ‘as seen’ basis, with potential buyers unable to enter the property to view it.

When it is sold, before any proceeds go back to the owner, the council will strip out its own costs, meaning the process does not create bills for the authority.

Several more properties across Barnsley will go through the same process and the only control on buyers will be a vetting process to ensure they are unlikely to leave their new property untouched and in its existing condition – which is what the process seeks to avoid.

Barnsley Council housing officer Amy Forster told councillors who represent the Goldthorpe district: “These properties are viewable externally only. It is buy as you see. They obviously need a considerable amount of work. We have not put a price on them, it is sensible offers.

“There are four which will be changed ownership, hopefully by the end of the year,” she said.

The house in Highgate Lane was the first where the council had taken enforcement action to force a sale, a process which is easier for the authority than compulsory purchase, although that remains an option as a last resort, should the council need to acquire a specific property.

As the private rented housing sector has grown, the council has experienced a rise in the number of problems affecting both landlords and tenants and it is now working to try to resolve those issues.

One property owner with nine homes in the Grimethorpe area is said to owe more than £100,000 in unpaid Council Tax, with the authority now aware they have acquired further homes in the area.

Some homes become unoccupied after being bought or inherited, with the owners unsure of how to take further steps to rent or sell their properties and advice is available in both cases from the council, with loans or grants of up to £15,750 available per house for repairs to make it habitable.

To qualify for that help, homes have to be renovated to a level where they are safe and suitable to be rented and the owners must also sign up to the council’s landlord accreditation scheme, to make sure they provide a good level of service to the clients who will eventually rent the property.

However, that is not a guarantee of success and the owner of two properties in Beaver Street, Goldthorpe, where financial assistance from the council was used to renovate the houses has seen his properties both broken into while waiting to find tenants.

That led to the houses being offered at a monthly rate of only £200 as a measure to get occupants installed in a bid to deter thieves, but even at those rates no tenants could be found.

Coun May Noble said the area’s safer neighbourhood team, which includes police and council officials, was not big enough to deal with the scale of problems in Goldthorpe and surrounding communities.

“We get the same problems each week on the same streets. It is not just symptomatic of Goldthorpe, Bolton on Dearne needs the same sort of action. I sympathise with the landlords.

“All different factors come into play. It is not just about landlords and tenants. It is about criminality,” she said.