A VACANT property unearthed through Jersey’s new Empty Homes Service could soon become the initiative’s ‘first win’, according to the Housing Minister – after government officers discovered its owner died over four decades ago.
Deputy David Warr said he felt ‘vindicated’ by recent progress made by the Empty Homes Service, which was launched earlier this year to enable Islanders to report a property they believe to be empty via an online form on the gov.je website.
Around 4,000 houses were recorded as empty on the day of the 2021 census, but Deputy Warr has said the true number was estimated to be 900.
Around 230 properties have been reported through the Empty Homes Service so far, of which 30 are going through a preliminary assessment.
One of the reported homes, a bungalow with a garden, was found to be in poor condition – with boarded-up windows and overgrown ivy – during a visit by the Empty Homes Service team.
Officers carried out research on the property’s ownership history and discovered that the late owner died in 1975, possibly intestate with no heirs.
As a result it has been passed to HM Receiver General Alan Blair, who will assess the possibility of claiming – with Royal Court approval – the abandoned property as ‘bona vacantia’ or ‘vacant goods’.
In such cases, the property passes to the Crown under the stewardship of HM Receiver General for a period of up to 40 years, after which it will be owned outright by the Crown. This means the property could be refurbished and made available for use, or ultimately returned to the market for sale.
Deputy Warr said he felt ‘vindicated’ by what could potentially be the service’s ‘first win’, having faced criticism over whether the initiative would be an effective use of resources.
‘A huge amount of work went into the initial report and researching the exact scale of the problem [of empty homes],’ he added.
‘It’s highlighting lots of gaps – everybody thinks that someone else is sorting out the problem but here’s a case where nobody is. It would have been completely under the radar and, in ten years’ time, we could be having the same conversation going “I wonder who owns that property”.
‘It’s always been about trying to get the first one over the line and if we prove to be successful in doing so, it might be a trigger for action regarding other properties where people know they’ve been left empty.’