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Islington council 'targets buy-to-leave investors'

Islington Council could introduce plans that would require new homes in the borough to be occupied on a regular basis, in an attempt to put an obstacle in the way of 'buy-to-leave' investors.According to the council, there has been a dramatic rise in this type of property transaction, whereby new homes are sold as an investment, often marketed as off-plan overseas, and then left to stand vacant - a practice that has become increasingly common in the south of Islington near the city centre.A third or more of homes in some new developments in the borough are potentially empty, council research suggests, leading to concerns that these properties are wasted supply, making no contributions to Islington's demand for accommodation.Following an initial consultation earlier this year, the council has created draft planning measures that would stop new homes from staying empty. Under the proposals, properties could not be left vacant for longer than three months and would have to be occupied for at least 14 days in this period.This is the first time that a local authority has attempted to resolve the issue using planning powers. The plans could lead to property owners being hit with a fine, prison sentence or even seizure of the vacant homes.Councillor James Murray, the council's executive member for housing and development, said: "In Islington, as across London, there is a desperate shortage of housing. It's wrong when new homes sit there empty purely as investments, when Londoners are desperately trying to find somewhere to live."Our new proposals would make sure that all new homes in Islington are occupied - we want to send a message that ‘buy-to-leave’ is unacceptable."Last month, communities secretary Eric Pickles spoke out again vacant properties, calling on councils to sell empty properties and reinvest the money in affordable homes. He said that local authorities were "sitting on millions of pounds" that could be put to a better use.The government has already introduced new rules to reduce the social housing waiting lists, which have decreased by 50 per cent since 2010. From April next year, councils will be obliged to publish the details of the most recent valuation of their social housing stock every year to make sure it's being put to good use.    

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