Speaking at the launch of the Empty Homes Agency's 'National Week of Action on Empty Homes' today, Mr Curry welcomed the latest figures showing a continued reduction in the numbers of vacant dwellings.
'At a time when our best estimates point to a 4.4 million growth in the number of households between 1991 and 2016, we must work towards solutions which make best use of our existing housing. We simply cannot afford to have homes lying empty. The overall drop in the number of empty homes for the third successive year is a step in the right direction but there is still much more to be done.
'Government too has a role to play in keeping its own house in order. Much progress has been made. Nevertheless, some departments are performing better than others. We remain committed to tackling this problem and improving on the inroads we have made.
'I am pleased to see a continued reduction in the number of private empty homes. The private sector holds the key to bringing vacants back into use as the majority of empty properties are privately owned. In 1988 we made it more attractive to let empty property by removing rent control for new lettings and introducing assured shorthold tenancies which give landlords the certainty that they can regain possession of their property when they need to.
Since 1988 we have seen the decline of the private rented sector reverse and people who would otherwise have left their property empty have let it - providing homes for other people and rental income for themselves.' Giving details of the new legislation, Mr Curry said:
'The Housing Act 1996 has made letting a home even easier and safer. From 28 February 1997, owners will be able to let their property for as little as 6 months on an assured shorthold tenancy without going through a bureaucratic procedure. All new private lettings will automatically be on shorthold terms unless the landlord and tenant agree otherwise.
'The Act will also make it easier for landlords to get their property back if their tenants do not pay their rent or are causing a nuisance to local people. In cases of rent arrears, landlords will be able to seek mandatory possession through the courts a month sooner than they can under the current arrangements. It will also be quicker and easier to evict anti-socialtenants causing a nuisance to other people in the locality.
'I believe that these changes will play an important part in encouraging more owners of empty homes to let them. To publicise these changes, and to increase tenants' awareness of their rights under the legislation, we have produced new leaflets for landlords and tenants highlighting the main issues and new booklets providing detailed advice on all aspects of private letting. All are available from the department of the environment free of charge.
'Local authorities can play an important role in encouraging private owners to let out their properties. In many cases, the properties are used to provide short and medium term solutions to the housing needs of particular groups of people. Research carried out for the department of the environment by the Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at the various schemes used by local authorities in support of their duties towards statutory homeless households under the Housing Act 1985.
The research report 'Financing Temporary Accommodation in the Private Rented Sector: An Economic Analysis', published this week, should be valuable to local authorities using the private rented sector to provide accommodation for homeless applicants in considering the most beneficial scheme and funding arrangements.'
The total number of vacant dwellings is down by 13,000 (1.5%) on the April 1995 figure and 78,000 (9%) on the April 1993 peak. The proportion of dwellings vacant is 3.9%. The government target is to reduce this to 3% by 2005.
The fall is entirely due to the reduction in private sector vacant dwellings from 690,000 to 667,000. Research for the department of the environment has shown that the majority of these are only vacant in the short term while they are in the process of being sold or relet. There are some 200,000-250,000 long term vacants which could be brought back into use.
The Department of Environment has produced the following leaflets and booklet to publicise the changes:
'Letting your home is now easier and safer' 'Do you rent, or are you thinking of renting, from a private landlord?'
'Assured and assured shorthold tenancies; a guide for landlords' 'Assured and assured shorthold tenancies; a guide for tenants'
All are available, free of charge, from the Department of the Environment Publications Despatch Centre, Blackhorse Road, London, SE99 6TT, or by telephoning on 0181 691 9191. Orders may be faxed on 0181 694 0099.
The research report 'Financing Temporary Accommodation in the Private Rented Sector: An Economic Analysis' by C Giles, P Johnson and J McCrae is published by The Stationery Office, priced£15 (ISBN 0-11- 753286-X). A free four page summary is available from Dorrett Annon, Social Research Division, Department of the Environment, Floor 1, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU Tel: 0171 890 3276.