Imagine paying £3,500 to clean up an empty property after pigeon damage… BBC Scotland’s The Country Council’s final episode this week* (2 November) highlighted what can happen when a flat is left unoccupied for years.

The programme, which focuses on the work of Argyll and Bute Council in the west of Scotland, has showcased the work of different council departments. In this episode, amenity officer Jim was called to a tenement flat after other residents in the block complained about pigeons being trapped in the property.

When he left himself into the flat, the amenity officer discovered pigeons had been making use of the space for a long time. Most of the surfaces were covered in pigeon droppings, and four or five pigeon carcasses were lying on the floor where the birds had got into the flat through a hole in the wall but had not been able to get out and so had starved to death.
The amenity officer called in the help of his colleague, environmental officer Richard. The council didn’t own the property, but pigeon droppings, as well as being unhygienic, can cause respiratory problems. The infestation was deemed a health hazard for other residents in the block, and as the council did not know who its owner was, they were landed with the cleaning bill – £3,500.

Across Argyll and Bute, there are more than 3,000 people on the housing waiting list, and the property featured on Thursday’s night show was one of 1,000 long-term empty homes. Later, the programme centred on the work of a housing officer who works with the area’s homeless population.

Niamh was one of them, a 20-year-old single mum who’d been made homeless because her parents didn’t have the space for her and her young daughter. Niamh had been living in temporary accommodation in Oban for ten months, but she desperately needed a permanent home as she wanted to live somewhere her ex-partner, a violent individual, wouldn’t know about.

Danny Curran, founder and managing director of Finders International, said: “The programme highlighted what an issue empty, derelict properties are for councils – even when those properties aren’t council houses.

“The amenity officer pointed out that there are a number of reasons why properties become derelict. The previous owner might abandon it or die, and there are no known next of kin to take it over. Having to shell out £3,500 to clean the property is an added expense our cash-strapped local authorities do not need.

“One of the services we can offer councils is a free service where we trace the owners of a derelict property. We can find the rightful heirs in cases where someone has died without any immediate next of kin, so the property can be tidied up and returned to the housing market as soon as possible, freeing up homes that can be used to ease the housing crisis that many local authority areas deal with.”

To find out more about Finders International’s empty homes service, contact us on 020 7490 4935 or freephone 0800 085 8796, email [email protected]

*For BBC licence-fee payers, the programme is available on iPlayer for the next 29 days as of 3 November 2017.