Houses left empty by owners for more than a year could be seized and leased by local authorities under new plans.
The government aims to fill 25,000 abandoned homes by 2010
Empty dwelling management orders would allow councils to seize, renovate and lease a property for up to seven years, before returning it to its owner.
The plans are expected to become law in April next year.
It emerged last week that almost 700,000 homes are empty in England, of which 280,000 have been deserted for more than 12 months.
The government hopes to fill 25,000 empty homes by 2010.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) John Prescott hopes the orders - EDMOs - would only be used as a last resort where a voluntary agreement could not be reached with a property's owner.
An ODPM spokesman said: "The objective is to persuade owners in these circumstances to pass the responsibility for bringing the property back into housing use to the local authority.
"Of course, we want this to be with their consent, but where that consent is not forthcoming we do not apologise for granting local authorities powers to secure occupation without the need to obtain consent."
Under the plans, EDMOs would not be used on holiday homes, second homes, properties for sale, or houses with valid reasons for remaining empty.
"We will target the power at properties that are vacant for long periods of time where the owner cannot offer a justification for the vacancy to continue," the spokesman said.
He added: "Poorly maintained empty properties are magnets for vandals, drug users, squatters and even arsonists.
"Bringing empty homes back into use reduces opportunities for low level anti-social behaviour."