Council could force landlords to sell homes

DERELICT homes are set to be targeted by Hastings Borough Council as the authority aims to prevent further arsons and vandalism like that which has already blighted the town.

Councillors have approved plans to toughen up its stance on empty buildings and officers at the local authority could use new powers to force owners to sell up.

The council already targets problem landlords through its grotbusters team which pressures owners to carry out necessary maintenance work or does the work itself and then sends out a bill.

The scheme has been hailed a success, with councils across the UK following Hastings’s lead and adopting similar departments.

In fact, the grotbuster squad last week celebrated its 500th improved property.

However, staff will now be able to go one step further. Any landlords who are billed by the council but are dragging their heels of payment could be ordered to sell the property, with the outstanding debt being given to the council from the proceeds.

And as well as this new tool, council officers will also begin spreading out the focus of the grotbusters team, which has historically been centred on the seafront and central St Leonards.

There will also be a new section on the council’s website set aside for people to report problem properties and to check which buildings are already being looked into.

And any home being targeted will now be postered with a Council Aware notice so neighbours know the authority is on the case.

The move was welcomed by councillors at a meeting on Monday, with Conservative leader Matthew Lock particularly happy to see a stiffening of attitude after he spent more than a year campaigning for a fire-ravaged site on The Ridge to be cleared up.

Hastings Cottage was one of the many empty homes hit by arsonists after becoming a hive for anti-social behaviour. Cllr Lock said he was pleased the council was doing more but suggested more pre-emptive steps may be necessary to keep derelict sites secure.

He said: “When Hastings Cottage caught fire it was mayhem and the whole road ground to a halt.

“If we can do something to stop things getting to that stage it must be of benefit to everyone.”