Empty dwelling management orders allow councils to take over homes and rent them out, though they do not acquire ownership.
David Ireland, chief executive of the Empty Homes Agency, a charity that promotes the use of vacant property, said many councils had scored successes simply by threats to use an order.
“Once a council starts to prepare an order owners will often voluntarily resolve the problem and bring property back into use,” he said.
“Manchester City Council has done that in about 40 cases and it’s quite a success story, but I don’t think most other councils have done the same.”
Mr Ireland said councils had been reluctant to use the orders because the homes concerned normally needed costly renovations.
“Councils can recover those costs from rent paid, but they have to make a big investment upfront and there was never extra money for that,” he said.