Vacant and abandoned properties may vary in frequency depending on the health of the neighborhood, but virtually every community — from rich to poor — is affected by vacant and abandoned property conditions: properties that are unoccupied either because they cannot be or simply due to other circumstances. Properties that are not inhabited for extended periods of time can begin to negatively impact adjacent occupied properties. Any property that is not maintained for an extended period of time will inevitably deteriorate and any community that has many of these properties will suffer ripple effects of eroded values.
Vacant and abandoned properties are in large part unpreventable as their causes are wide ranging and vary from case to case. While the causes are difficult to grasp, efforts can be aimed at curbing or preventing their negative effects. It is critical for communities to combat the effects of neglected properties regardless of the situation of the property owner of the vacant or abandoned site. If left unchecked, these sites can unfairly devalue the other properties in the community and can ultimately serve as a primary source of disinvestment. Vacant and abandoned lots can be prime opportunities for affordable development, because they can often be purchased for less than fair market value.
Vacant and abandoned properties are the responsibility of both the municipality and the property owner.
Municipality. The preservation of communities is ultimately the very job of the local municipality. The prevention of community decay that can result from vacant and abandoned properties is therefore one of the municipality’s greatest responsibilities. Many municipalities have drafted and adopted property maintenance codes that require property owners to maintain their properties regardless of the state of occupancy. These codes often include financial penalties for noncompliance. Other communities use targeted specific property taxes to address properties that remain vacant or abandoned for an extended period of time. Others have successfully relied upon active community organizations to self-police and maintain the condition of structures in a community.
Private Property Owners. Property owners ultimately bear the greatest responsibility to maintain their property. No property owner can be required to always have a home occupied, but every owner can be expected to maintain property to meet a minimum standard of safety and aesthetics. Property owners are most effective at ensuring communal control over neglected properties when they formalize community enforcement programs that focus on issues such as trash, debris, yard storage, yard parking, invalid parking tags, graffiti, building permits and other building code elements.
- Vacant and abandoned properties provide opportunities for cheaper priced property, which in turn can provide affordable housing opportunities
- Vacant and abandoned properties provide opportunities for communities to come together for a common cause through enforcement programs
- Property owners’ rights must be balanced with community welfare when regulating vacant and abandoned properties
- If not addressed, vacant and abandoned properties can cause rapid disinvestment
- Unkempt properties can become blighted and lead to crime-prone areas
- Planning Department
- Economic Development Department
- Building Department
- Mayor and Council/Commission
- Community organizations
Property maintenance codes can be implemented at no cost to local governments, and sample ordinances can be obtained through various outlets or other municipalities. Similarly, community enforcement programs can be easily started through the cooperation of the local government and affected neighborhoods.