NEW powers to allow local authorities to take over 'ghost houses', left to rot by private landlords, were outlined yesterday.
There are almost 20,000 private homes in Merseyside, North Cheshire and West Lancashire which have been vacant for more than six months, according to government figures.
That includes more than 10,000 in Liverpool alone - properties that fall into disrepair and fall prey to squatters, drug-dealers and fly-tippers.
Now local councils will be given powers to move tenants into long-term empty homes without going through the costly - and time-consuming - process of compulsory purchase.
From next year, they will be able to give an empty dwelling management order (EDMO) to any landlord refusing to co-operate with attempts to bring a property back into use.
Unlike compulsory purchase, an EDMO will only give the council temporary management rights - allowing a house to revert to its original owner.
Ministers are quick to pledge the new powers could not be used against people who leave their property vacant to go abroad or against second-home owners.
Baroness Andrews, the housing minister said: "Empty homes have blighted our communities and attracted anti-social behaviour for far too long.
"The new management orders are an ideal opportunity to bring these properties back into use so as to provide much needed accommodation locally."
Figures supplied by local councils last year revealed there were 10,003 private homes vacant for more than six months in Liverpool and a further 3,126 in Wirral.
There were lower totals in Sefton (2,211), St Helens (1,387), Chester (1,083), West Lancashire (608), Halton (591), Knowsley (330), Ellesmere Port and Neston (304) and Warrington (249).
Baroness Andrews spoke as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) launched a three-month consultation on the orders, to conclude on October 14.
Local authorities are being asked the time period after which they should be allowed to take action, with the ODPM proposing six months.
There is also debate over the extent of exemptions, which will include holiday homes, properties under repair or awaiting planning approval and those on sale.
Ministers are concerned that empty homes pose a risk to adjoining properties through damp and other infestations.
Sometimes, local authorities are forced to guard against break-ins by squatters and drug-dealers by boarding up empty homes.
But boarded up windows and doors - as well as overgrown gardens and dumped rubbish --can lower the price and marketability of neighbouring homes.
Local authorities that have tried to pursue irresponsible landlords through the courts have found compulsory purchase can take up to seven years.