Living next to a vacant home

Plenty of people don't have the best relationship with their neighbors, so you might consider it a blessing if the home next door is empty. However, living next to a vacant home comes with its own challenges.

Oftentimes, a property will only be empty for a brief period of time. The previous owner may have had to start a new job or otherwise been under pressure to move, forcing them to clear out before finding a buyer for their home. You can often rest assured that a new neighbor will arrive at some point, and that the real estate company will work on maintaining the property during that time.

If a property has been abandoned or foreclosed on, however, it may sit unoccupied for a long time. In these cases, it can be obvious that the home has suffered for lack of an occupant. The lawn and gardens will grow out of control, and components such as the roof and siding may start to deteriorate.

Empty houses can be particularly concerning to those living in the surrounding homes. Margarette Burnette, writing for the financial site Bankrate, says a decrepit property is not only a neighborhood eyesore, but can also bring down the property values of nearby residences. The overgrown lawn can prove attractive to wildlife, and an untreated pool can become a mosquito hatching ground. Empty houses can also be occupied by squatters or become the target of theft or vandalism.

It's helpful to be vigilant if you live next to a vacant residence. Tabatha Wharton, writing for the home improvement site Charles + Hudson, says neighbors can keep an eye on the empty home for signs of any noticeable problems. If you notice anyone entering the property illegally, report the issue to the police right away.

Check your local land laws to see what the rules are regarding empty homes. Burnette says these ordinances typically dictate how an abandoned property should be maintained. If you believe the condition of the home means it is in violation of the code, you can report it to local officials to have it addressed.

The owner of the property will usually be contacted by local officials and given a deadline to fix the problem. If it is not addressed, municipal officials can complete the repair or hire a contractor to do it, then place a lien on the property for this expense.

However, this remedy is often only available for minor issues, such as an overgrown lawn. Local officials will generally not be able to compel the owners to fix serious problems such as a deteriorating roof. However, you should still report any ongoing issues, such as flooding caused by burst pipes.

You may be able to seek relief through other channels as well. Wharton says that if the property is being overrun by stray animals and wildlife, you can have local health authorities declare the home a health hazard and take appropriate action. For foreclosed properties, you can ask the bank that holds the property to keep the home in good repair and consider legal action if they do not comply.

It might be tempting to do take care of some minor upkeep on a vacant property on your own, such as trimming the hedges and cutting the grass. However, Burnette says you'll be trespassing on the property if you take these actions, and could be held liable if you inadvertently cause any damage.

One option is to find out who owns the property and seek their permission to do this maintenance. If a bank has taken possession of the property, they're responsible for its upkeep. However, you can still ask this lender's permission to complete a few basic upgrades such as putting up curtains or painting over graffiti. Jennifer Alyson, writing for SFGate, says you may even want to set up a baby monitor in the home to let you know if anyone breaks in.

You can minimize any effect of a vacant home on your own property's value by keeping your home in good shape. It's prudent to address any noticeable exterior blemishes, including peeling paint, loose shingles, or an untended lawn.

If the home is being marketed for sale, working with the real estate agent can be beneficial. Burnette says the agent is sometimes unaware of problems at a vacant property, and letting them know can help get these issues fixed. Alyson says you can also refer the property to family members, friends, or anyone else who is looking to buy a home.

When the empty home has deteriorated so much that it is beyond saving, you may want to consider advocating for its demolition. Christina Plerhoples Stacy, writing for The Urban Institute, says removing a blighted home can help reduce crime in the neighborhood. The empty lot can be used to construct a new home, or it can be used for other purposes such as green space or even a community garden.


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