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CPO over unoccupied property can be made even when dwelling not 'empty', says court

A local housing authority may make a compulsory purchase order (CPO) over an unoccupied house even where the house is not 'empty' for the purposes of the empty dwellings management orders (EDMO) regime, a High Court judge has ruled.22 Oct 2012

The judge also said a "compelling social need" for residential dwellings by the local authority could outweigh any rights to a private and family life guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

A local housing authority has the power to "acquire houses, or buildings which may be made suitable as houses" under the Housing Act 1985. This includes the power to acquire houses in need of repair and improvement with a view to improving them as housing accommodation, a high court judge ruled in 2002.

The Housing Act 2004 also gives a local authority the power to make an EDMO to take over the management of empty homes for a limited period and bring them back into occupation. This requires that the house has been "wholly unoccupied for at least six months" and that there is no "reasonable prospect" that the house will become occupied in the "near future".

The London Borough of Enfield had made a CPO over an empty property. A planning inspector confirmed the Order, saying it was clear that the house was not in "full occupation" and that there were "material defects in the property" and its condition was "inconsistent with acceptable use". Further, the owner had not "undertaken any works which would provide re-use for housing purposes", the inspector said.

The judge ruled that although the house may not have been "empty" under the EDMO regime, this did not prevent the local housing authority from making a CPO.

"There is nothing in the Housing Act 2004, providing for the EDMO regime, that expressly requires a decision maker under the Housing Act 1985 to consider, for the purpose of making or confirming a CPO, whether or not a relevant property is an 'empty dwelling' under the EDMO regime," said the judge. "The EDMO regime was intended to create additional powers for bringing unoccupied property into residential use."

"If a CPO were permissible only if a property was an 'empty dwelling' under the EDMO regime, an acquiring authority would be powerless to acquire by CPO property that had been left unoccupied and in continuing unacceptable disrepair and neglect, so long as the owner had an EDMO reason for leaving the property unoccupied," the judge said.

The judge also held that the CPO regime could potentially engage the protection of private and family life in ECHR Article 8, as the reason the house was not in "full occupation" was that the owner had gone to care for his elderly mother. However, this was outbalanced by the local authority's "acute need" for more residential dwellings.

"The compelling social need" outweighed "any Article 8 right" of the house owner and the CPO was "proportionate having regard to the content of that right in the present context and the wider public interest which the CPO regime seeks to advance", the judge said.

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