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Owners’ survey results

As part of a wider communication strategy around Empty Homes Week, letters were sent to 200 owners of empty homes that our records indicated were empty for 2 to 5 years. 

The letter described the urgent need for housing in the Bay, urging the owners to take action, with a link to our webpages describing any assistance that maybe available and reminding them that empty homes attract financial penalties, as well as anti-social behaviour. 

The document also asked owners to complete a survey about their experience of owning an empty home, to find what barriers they were experiencing and what they thought would help to bring homes back into use. 

The consultation exercise was undertaken for almost 5 weeks, from 20 Feb to 22 Mar 2023, when it had to close due to the Council’s rules around Purdah. The survey was also published in numerous press releases and social media platforms during that time. 


From the 200 letters, we had 22 (11%) responses, saying that either the property was sold, or was undergoing sale. 16 (8%) of the owners completed the survey. 

Q1. How did you come by the property?

  • Purchased 63%
  • Inherited 25%
  • Power of attorney 13%

We will:

Conduct a media campaign to raise awareness that long term empty homes present certain issues, making people aware that there are potential pitfalls and benefits

Q2. What are the main obstacles preventing you bringing the home back into use?

Please tick all that apply

  • Problems with achieving a sale 23%
  • Lack of finance to carry out essential repairs 15%
  • Problems/delays with Building Regs/Planning process 15%
  • Problems with letting 12%
  • Do not wish to sell, or let 12%
  • Lack of experience to deal with the property 4%
  • Other, please say: 19%

2.1 Needed time to do the work - your council tax rules penalise purchasers of empty properties - do not allow for any time to complete renovations before selling or letting the property. 

2.2 The flat became vacant in Oct 2020 and the tenants left the place uninhabitable but more importantly the roofs are leaking causing mould the flat is unsafe. This was just when the covid pandemic was at its height. It took me until April 2021 to get a schedule of work assessed by a reputable architect and then tendered out to contractors through my architiect over the summer. Then from the summer of 2021 to autumn of 2022, we were let down by various contractors. The work was finally scheduled for autumn of 2022 then the neighbours objected and a party wall surveyor had to be employed.  We are now just getting the contractor bids again and hope to repair/replace roofs early spring.  

2.3 Originally marital home, has been let out for approx 30 years. Due to change in their circumstances gave notice 2019.  Initially wasn't sure  whether to re let or sell. Concerns regarding legislation not protecting Landlords enough  or pay out Capital Gains.   Due to personal circumstance taken longer to make repairs, decorate and generally tidy up after last tenants.  Property was placed on market August 2022, unfortunately by that time the market was declining. Did have a prospective buyer but they had to sell their own home. Advised in January that had fallen through. Market appears to be picking up now, hopeful a buyer will be found.   

2.4 We brought the house in order to bring it back into use.  

2.5 awaiting refurb 

We will: 

  1. Investigate if we can adopt a renewable loan scheme to help owners rejuvenate empty dwellings into homes 
  2. Work holistically across the Council to ensure we prioritise all new homes in the Bay 
  3. Promote and offer assistance via the website and media to guide people through the process of bringing a home back into use 

Q3. Are you aware that the Council offers a free service that helps landlords with a competitive range of financial and other benefits, for example deposit and rent in advance and regular visits? 

See our Landlord Tenancy Matching Scheme 

  • Yes 25% 
  • No 75%  

We will: 

Promote our Landlord Tenancy Matching Scheme 

Q4. Once brought back into use, would you be interested in leasing a property to the Council? 

  • Yes 31% 
  • No 69% 

If ‘No’, please say why: 

4.1 Want a short let, so I can sell early 

4.2 Joint ownership property and therefore need to sale.  

4.3 Lack of cooperation from the council - does not inspire me nor motivate me to deal with the council unless I have to 

4.4 I need the proceeds of sale 

4.5 People who pay the rent don’t end up on the street. And this isn’t the average joe you’re talking about either - drug addicts, convicts, people with real problems that makes it impossible for them to maintain a tenancy. So maybe some landlords would rather have the property empty than run the risk of having the worst tenant ever. 

4.6 The council does not keep its word it is always blaming the landlord this landlord that. And the tenant is always the one that breaks the rules.  I have never received decent tenants and i have been lied to. Id rather work with say AGEUK who at least respects the working relationship and does not force a means to and end with difficult tenants. And no we dont care to pay council tax on an empty property because it is 100 times cheaper than rebuilding a destroyed property. And the finance help only goes that far and then you drop us. Lots of process politics and very little force. In all my time i have only had two reliable people in the council i could work with and when they werent there it all went wrong. 

4.7 And we have 27 so Id say we are noticable 

4.8 Preference to sell property, if this is not forthcoming will re-let again through Barbets Letting Agents.,  

4.9 I plan to live in it 

4.10 The return isn't great enough so we will be selling it. 

4.11 Looking for professional tenants to maximise rental income  

4.12 Restrictions placed by the Council and political uncertainties. 

4.13 Don’t think council tenants would appreciate my property  

We Will: 

Work with the Housing Needs Team to discuss the challenges that landlords face to improve relationships and understanding of the types of tenants that maybe available for matching.

Q5. Are you aware that Torbay Council charge 100% Council Tax on properties from the day the property becomes empty? 

See our empty property premiums 

  • Yes 100% 
  • No      0% 

Q6. Are you aware that Torbay Council charge a long-term empty property charge (premium) for properties continually empty for over 2 years, and that this increases over time? 

See our empty property premiums 

  • Yes 94% 
  • No   6%  

We will: 

Conduct a media campaign to raise awareness that the Council increases Council Tax on long term empty properties and that the charge remains with the property, not the owner, so if you purchase an empty home you may also have to pay the premium 

Q7. Are you aware that properties that have been empty for at least 2 years are eligible for a reduced VAT rate of 5% on the costs of renovation? 

See the HMRC's 'Buildings and construction VAT Notice 708 

  • Yes 19% 
  • No 81% 

We will: 

Raise awareness, via social media and our website that empty home owners are eligible for a reduced VAT rate of 5% on the costs of renovation for properties empty over two years.

Q8. Are you aware that unoccupied property insurance is often more expensive than a standard home insurance policy? 

  • Yes 81% 
  • No 19%  

We will: 

Raise awareness, via social media and our website that property insurance is often more expensive, or even unobtainable for empty homes.

Q9. Are you aware that Trading Standards host a list of businesses, including building contractors, that have been accredited to trade in a fair, honest and legal manner with a customer-friendly service? 

See the Trading Standards 'Buy With Confidence Scheme' 

  • Yes 56% 
  • No 44%  

We will: 

Let people know, via social media and our website that that both Trading Standards and the Planning Portal host a list of businesses, including building contractors.

Q10 Thinking about bringing your property back into use, how do you think the Council could help? Please tick all that apply 

  • Larger loan to carry out repairs 20% 
  • Help finding contractors 16% 
  • Help with letting 12% 
  • Legal advice 12% 
  • Help with the sale, or auction 8% 
  • Small financial loan to clear the property 8%  
  • Other, please say: 24% 

10.1 The rules for exemption on major renovations are not necessarly applicable when just trying to upgrade a property to provide a safe and comfortable home for the next occupiers.  Please rethink this policy - you are not helping yourselves (maybe housing and council tax teams should try and talk to each other to find a solution) 

10.2 I have put in an application to challenge the increase in council tax.  I have been trying to renovate this property since April 2021 and because of Covid delays and problems with contractors, I feel strongly I should be given another year allowance before the increase. 

I have yet to hear from the Torbay council on this matter.  I hoe to have the work completed this spring.  

10.3 Do what the tenant is suppose to do and that is pay the rent, recover it from them and fix the damage on their behalf. Take it from their benefits. Not us. Stop blaming us. No one and i mean no one as a landlord thinks oh i wont care. No. Its what you do when you blame us and yet you know the tenant is wrong. And now you are stuck. Because we would rather have it empty than suffer and I did say this would happen.  

10.4 None of the above really appropriate.  My preference is to sell at a fair and realistic price . If Estate Agents not able to find a purchaser as soon as the market improves, will have to reconsider letting out due to the crippling costs of rates etc. ,Although as mentioned in question 2, I do have concerns that legislation is working against protecting the genuine small landlord who is prepared to offer a good quality home for a fair rent and in return, for the tenant to treat the property with respect  

10.5 Having brought a property that has been empty for some time we are paying a large monthly bill despite it being empty before we owned it. Given that we have brought the property in order to get it back into use it would be a good insentive for people to get a rebate on this overpayment if they bring it back into use within a certain timeframe (say 6 or 12 months). This would make a big difference in whether people take on renovations as projects. It would have been an incentive for us.  

10.6 The council could consider offering grants as well as loans 

Q11. Do you have any further comments about empty homes and how the Council should get involved? 

11.1 Don’t expect the Council to assist, the property is on the market but the sale has fallen though 4 times due to the chain and other peoples mortgages falling through. 

11.2 Encourage purchase and renovation of empty properties rather than penalising people trying to bring properties back into use.  Having renovated over 7 properties in the last few years for renting/selling on, we are now avoiding buying any property in Torbay that has been left empty for a long period of time as we will be penalised by paying double council tax from the start. It is the previous owner who should be charged for leaving the property empty not the new owner who is attempting to enable someone in Torbay to have a home. 

11.3 I think you should really look into why the property is empty at a much earlier stage. I have called the council during 2021 to explain my problems with getting contractors and felt like I was talking to a wall. It seems like all they cared about was getting the 100% council tax empty or not. 

11.4 My property needs major repairs to get it to a state where I can let it. Cripplingly high bills such as the council tax, and the mortgage which has doubled in cost in the past year and the fact I’m having to pay to live elsewhere because of the work needed to make the property safe to live in again has created a cycle where I can’t afford the work needed to rent out the property and I can’t raise the money without getting rent from the property. I am unwilling to sell it as I won’t be able to buy again due to a drop in my finances and accrual of debt from repair bills 

11.5 Stop blaming landlords as if it is our fault that people are homeless. Maybe their life choices are the reason. Not us. You should be more respectful to us and if you are asking our help, you should help us and not “dump” tenants on us and then ignore us when things go wrong because the tenancy protects the tenant. 

11.6 Purchased a property that had extensive asbestos contamination and rectification makes it uninhabitable but there is no easy way to not pay council tax while works are in progress. Quite a penalty whilst trying to renovate on a budget. Why not exempt up front.? 

11.7 Rebates if brought back into use within a certain timeframe after purchase. 

11.8 Does the owner of an empty property pay council tax if the property is leased to Torbay council and isn't let? 

11.9 The council should not interfere with private property. 

11.10 More information (as your doing here) 

Q12. If you would like to talk to us about your empty property, please leave your name and email and/or telephone number, thank you. 

Six (38%) owners have contacted us via the survey. We intend to get in touch and help them bring their empty homes back into use. 

We will: 

Get in touch with those owners who responded to this question 


Contact Empty Homes