This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

No general duty on homeowners to ensure properties are attractive or tidy

Homeowners frequently complain about unsightly or derelict housing which affects the value of their homes. Properties are usually privately owned and may or may not be occupied. Homeowners ask what rights they have in relation to these properties and what the duties of local authorities might be.

There is no general duty on homeowners to maintain their properties and gardens to a specific standard. Neighbours cannot force someone to cut their lawn or paint. Exceptions may apply in certain cases where properties are part of an estate management scheme.

Information on how to trace ownership of land or property can be found in this Library briefing paper: Tracing ownership of property or land.

Is disrepair causing damage?

Constituents should seek professional legal advice on their options where a neighbouring property’s disrepair, eg damaged guttering, is causing damage to their home.

Local authorities’ powers

Local authorities have several discretionary powers they can use to tackle unsightly or dangerous properties. These are listed below.

Dangerous or dilapidated buildings or structures

Under sections 77 and 78 of the Building Act 1984, authorities can require the owner to make the property safe or enable the authority to take emergency action to make the building safe.

Under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, using the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System, authorities can evaluate the potential risks to health and safety arising from deficiencies within properties and take appropriate enforcement action. Environmental health officers do not generally take enforcement action against owner occupiers.

Unsecured properties at risk of vandalism, arson or similar

Section 78 of the Building Act 1984 allows an authority to fence off the property.

Under section 29 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 , an authority can require the owner to take steps to secure a property or allow the authority to board it up in an emergency.

Blocked or defective drainage or private sewers

Under section 35 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 an authority can require an owner to address obstructed private sewers.

Section 59 of the Building Act 1984 can be used to require the owner to address blocked or defective drainage.

Section 17 of the Public Health Act 1961 can be used to require the owner to address defective drainage or private sewers.

Presence of vermin or risk of attracting vermin that is detrimental to health

Owners can be required to remove waste so vermin is not attracted to the site under: Section 34 of the Public Health Act 1961; Section 4 of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act; section 83 of the Public Health Act 1936; section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and section 76 of the Building Act 1984.

Unsightly land and property affecting the amenity of the area

Section 34 of the Public Health Act 1961 can be used to require the owner to remove waste from the area.

Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 can be used to require the owner to take steps to address a property adversely affecting the amenity of an area through its disrepair. The Government published Best Practice Guidance on section 215 (PDF) in January 2005.

Section 79 of the Building Act 1984 can be used to require the owner to address unsightly land or the external appearance of a property.

Empty properties

Local authorities have a range of powers at their disposal to encourage owners of empty homes to bring them back into use. Where a property has been empty for two years, subject to certain exceptions, an authority can seek an Empty Property Dwelling Order to bring it back into use. This power is regarded as a last resort. For more information see the Library papers: Empty housing (England) and Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs).

Overgrown gardens

The Library paper, Dealing with nuisance trees and hedges, provides full details and links to Government guidance on tree and vegetation issues. It also explains the common law aspects of this issue and covers dangerous trees.

Further reading

Citizens Advice has a webpage on complaining about your neighbour.

Check the relevant local authority’s website for information on local policies to tackle unsightly/derelict housing.


The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.