Council chiefs have been urged to take action to reduce the number of homes lying empty in East Renfrewshire.

Campaigners say hundreds of privately-owned houses and flats are at risk of becoming derelict and uninhabitable during the Covid pandemic through neglect.

Scottish Government figures show the number of abandoned properties in East Renfrewshire rose from 187 in 2019 to 242 last year – an increase of almost 30%.

The number of residences that had lain empty for more than 12 months jumped from 120 to 170 in the same period.

There was also an increase in the number of second homes lying unused, from 69 to 72.

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP), which is funded by the Scottish Government, wants council bosses to force owners to take greater care of their properties.

It says homes which lie empty often end up with crumbling brickwork, broken windows and overgrown gardens, making communities look rundown and giving the impression of poverty.

Council chiefs have the power to issue notices to owners to ensure properties are kept in a reasonable state of repair.

If the owner fails to do the work, the council can take enforcement action.

Councils can also impose a 200% council tax surcharge on owners if they fail to keep their properties up to scratch and, in extreme cases, can obtain a compulsory purchase order.

Shaheena Din, SEHP national project manager, said: “The full impact of Covid-19 on the number of long-term empty homes is still emerging and the figures may continue to rise for some time.

“We believe empty homes can provide a cost-effective way of providing much-needed affordable homes after the pandemic.

“The average cost of returning an empty home to a habitable state is between £6,000 and £12,000 – ten times less than the average cost of building a new home.

“Furthermore, bringing empty homes back into use can provide vital revenue to businesses and the local economy.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Our housing service monitors the number of empty homes across East Renfrewshire and, where feasible, will continue to support bringing empty homes back into use.”