We often get asked by Landlords whether the council can inspect their houses and force them to carry out works. Therefore the answer is below:
The Building Act 1984 ss77 and ss78 allows local councils to take action where they believe a property is dangerous. Under s77 they can apply to the Magistrates Court for an order that the owner of the building repair and under s78 the council can do the work itself and claim the money back from the owner of the property, but only if it is not reasonable to proceed under s77.
Swindon BC v Forefront Estates Ltd concerned a Grade II listed building called the Institute which had originally been designed to provide recreation and education for railway employees but at the time planning permission had been granted to turn it into flats and Forefront owned it. It came to the attention of Swindon Council that the Institute, and particularly its roof, may be dangerous. It carried out various inspections to the property and deemed that this was indeed the case and the roof was in imminent danger of collapse. It carried out the work needed to make it safe and sought to claim the sums expended back from Forefront. When Forefront did not pay, the Council issued a claim against it and Forefront put in a defence that the works might reasonably have been carried out under s77.
The High Court found that the Council could not reasonably have proceeded under s77, largely based on two grounds. The first was that the roof of the property had been found to contain asbestos and lead paint and there was a real danger that this could be dispersed into the air in a busy area used by members of the public and some 450 people would have to be advised to keep doors and windows closed and stay inside their houses. The second point was that there was a real risk that falling masonry could land on a passer by or someone seeking shelter in the building. The Council was awarded the sum of £331,242.69 and costs of over £60,000.
In short, yes the council can even where the property is not Let!