New standards for empty properties aim to reduce waiting times and increase flexibility for tenants

A new approach to the way council properties are prepared for new tenants could significantly reduce the time taken for homes to be re-let in Aberdeenshire.

At its meeting on Thursday (Sept 3), Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee agreed a new ‘lettable standard’ which changes responsibilities for tenants and the council.

The approach aims to reduce the length of time a property is unavailable for use between tenancies, during which time the property is classed as ‘void’.

A review of the council’s void process was carried out last year, with a focus on reducing re-let times. As part of its findings, the council will work with outgoing tenants to undertake any necessary action before they leave a property, with the council progressing upgrades and improvements when a new tenant has moved in.

Workshops held by the housing service saw the number of activities required to be undertaken while a property is empty reduced from 31 to 13, allowing work to be progressed more quickly while a property is empty. Views from tenants on both approaches were sought during a virtual event for tenants at the end of August.

This revised approach also means that incoming tenants will have more of a say on the upgrades in their new home, and will be asked to sign an agreement on the works to be undertaken in their home as part of their acceptance of a tenancy. By reducing the number of days a property is empty, it is anticipated that up to £1million of rent losses can be avoided.

At Thursday’s meeting, councillors debated two favoured options of the new standard.

The Revised Lettable Standard would see 23 activities, including some maintenance and low-level repairs, undertaken during the outgoing tenancy. A further 17 activities, including additional repairs and improvements, would take place once a new tenant has moved in.

Under this approach, it was envisaged that achieving the lettable standard could be as quick as five days for properties where only minor work is required, 18 days for routine works, and 44 for major works. Officers hoped that revised standard would see the average turnaround time for a property drop from 55 days to just 20.

A second, even more streamlined version of the standards, could see the average drop even further by leaving items such as light fittings and appliances from a previous tenancy in place, with the responsibility for keeping, changing or disposing of them becoming the tenant’s responsibility.

During discussion, Cllr Iris Walker proposed the adoption of the streamlined version with the additional inclusion of four key elements to ensure that washing machine connections are operational, that cooker spaces have 620mm clearance, that minor mould wash and treatment is undertaken and that defective porches are removed.

Cllr Glen Reynolds favoured the Revised Lettable Standard and suggested it was a “middle of the road approach” which would help tackle the number of void properties considerably.

Cllr Anne Stirling also proposed that regardless of which standard was adopted, there should be a six-month review from the implementation of the changes which would be fed back to committee for discussion. Members voted 9-4 in favour of the streamlined with the four additional procedures and the six-monthly review.

Speaking after the meeting, committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling said: “The new lettings standards should significantly reduce the time it takes for properties to be re-let, which is great for tenants and the council alike.

“The review was a key part of our Aberdeenshire Rapid Rehousing Plan, under which we’ve made a commitment to make better use of our resources, and an important part of that has been to focus on the needs of tenants and give them greater empowerment.”

Committee vice-chair Cllr Doreen Mair added: “It’s in everybody’s interests to ensure that properties don’t stay empty for any longer than they need to be, and I would commend everybody involved in developing the new standards.

“We hope tenants quickly see the benefits of the new approach and that they feel a greater sense of involvement in the process.”