The council condemned for its response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy is seeking new powers to take over empty properties and use them to house social tenants.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has called on the government to change the rules for acquiring unused dwellings.
The borough has 621 properties that have been empty and unfurnished for more than two years, many of which are worth millions of pounds. One is valued at close to £30m.
Kim Taylor-Smith, the council’s deputy leader, has written to the housing minister, Kit Malthouse, seeking changes to empty dwelling management orders.
Only properties that have become “magnets for vandalism, squatters and other forms of antisocial behaviour” and have been empty for two years can be seized using such orders, but Kensington and Chelsea wants those rules relaxed.
Doing so would make it “easier, quicker and financially viable to target all empty properties that could and should be put to use to alleviate pressing housing needs”, Taylor-Smith said.
He has suggested offering property owners tax breaks on rental income if they allow the council to let their flats and houses: “Owners should not lose out. We want to collaborate with, not clobber, the property investor.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said, however, that there were no plans to change the system. “Local authorities have a range of powers at their disposal to tackle long-term empty homes, and we expect them to use these to best address the needs of their residents,” a spokeswoman said.
“We have no plans to change the existing laws in this area, but are clear that all councils have a duty to provide affordable homes.”
Last year a string of oligarchs, foreign royalty and multimillionaire business figures were revealed as the owners of vacant properties in Kensington and Chelsea.
The council and its management body came under intense criticism after the Grenfell fire, which killed at least 72 people, for ignoring repeated safety warnings from the tower’s residents.
It has also been criticised for the amount of time taken to rehouse survivors, with dozens forced to live in hotels for months. A report published by the North Kensington Law Centre in June found the council had made their trauma worse by taking far too long to rehouse many people after a series of errors.
The centre, which has advised about 250 households affected by the fire, said the council’s performance on rehousing had fallen “way short” of what should be expected.
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