Who owns an abandoned house?

white abandoned home
Abandoned homes are more than a blot on the landscape. See more real estate pictures.
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During the real estate boom in the early 2000s, eager investors snapped up properties in all kinds of neighborhoods in order to rehabilitate them and put them on the market; however, when the economy took a turn for the worse, many of those property owners were no longer able to sell the homes or even afford upkeep on those properties they'd once hoped to flip. As a result, home foreclosures and rates of home vacancy dramatically increased.

Run-down and abandoned homes can make an entire neighborhood look bad. Trash, overgrown grass and pest problems can spill over into neighboring properties. But abandoned houses can be more than just an eyesore -- they can be safety hazards and hotbeds for criminal activity. But who owns these properties, and what can you do to make them take responsibility for their home?


People in cities and towns across the United States are experiencing tough economic times, and the home foreclosure rate reflects the downward turn in the economy. For example, in the third quarter of 2009, foreclosure notices in the forms of default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossession were filed on 930,437 U.S. properties, an increase of almost 22 percent from the third quarter of 2008. This translates to one in every 136 houses in the U.S. [source: Realty Track]. The economic downturn and mortgage crisis in recent years has contributed to the vacancy rate across the United States; for example, in Detroit, 30 percent of residential homes are vacant [source: Kellogg].

In this article, we'll take a look at why high crime rates seem to follow home vacancy. We'll also discuss what to do if there's an abandoned home nuisance in your neighborhood.


Abandoned Homes, Crime and the Economy

stairwell abandoned home
A vacant property often attracts a criminal element.

Oftentimes homes that are now unoccupied and abandoned were once parts of the more posh parts of a city. For instance, in 2010, the city of Detroit razed about 3,000 homes, including one that was the childhood home to former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Detroit took advantage of a $20 million federal funding incentive as a part of the economic stimulus package to get rid of structures that have been abandoned for years. The effort is also part of a plan to have the number of homes in Detroit reflect its changing population figures [source: Kellogg].

Although 3,000 homes might seem like a lot, the city estimates that there are actually about 90,000 abandoned homes and lots in the city [source: Kellogg]. While cities such as Detroit are moving to decrease their number of abandoned homes, there remains much work to be done to rid areas of vacant properties and the increased crime rates that accompany them.


Why does crime seem to go hand in hand with abandoned homes? Drug users frequently seek out abandoned homes to squat in. Crimes that are often associated with drug use and drugs sales such as burglary, robbery, rape and even murder occur more frequently in places where there are abandoned homes according to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN.) In addition to crime, other dangers that put entire neighborhoods at risk also result in people living in abandoned houses. Transients looking for shelter can sometimes die in the property as a result of building a makeshift fire for warmth.

Like Detroit, other U.S. cities are experiencing increased foreclosure rates and the higher crime rates that follow. In Queens, New York, crime dramatically rose between 2006 and 2008 mostly in neighborhoods that had a heightened home foreclosure rate. In 2008, neighborhoods in Queens that had high foreclosure rates had an average of 424 more murders, robberies, burglaries and auto thefts than in areas with lower foreclosure rates -- an increase of about 150 percent since 2006 [source: Hirshon].

You might think that crime rates would be lower in wealthy neighborhoods where homes have been foreclosed and then abandoned -- but that's not always the case. The average income of people living in the neighborhoods doesn't seem to factor into crime statistics. Both neighborhoods with wealthy and poor families experienced similar crimes rates when home vacancies increased [source:Hirshon].


What to Do About an Abandoned Home

outdoors abandoned home
Having a home demolished can take awhile.

If there's an abandoned house in your neighborhood, you can file a code violation complaint with the code enforcement office in your city or county. In some places, you can file the complaint online, or you can call the office to file a report. Search for your city or county's contact information online.

Once you file the complaint, a code enforcement officer will seek out the property owner. If he or she can't find the owner, you might be stuck with the abandoned structure even longer. The house will remain abandoned until the government can seize it for back taxes.


If the home is in foreclosure, it might take a while to figure out which bank is responsible for the property. Even if the person or entity responsible for the house is tracked down, there's no guarantee that the property will be demolished. If the home is put up for auction, it will be up to the new owner to decide what to do with the house.

Although the process of getting the government to take action on an abandoned house might be frustrating and time consuming, it's important to be persistent. Keep records of your correspondence and get your neighbors involved as well. The more people that speak out, the better chance you'll have of being heard and protecting your neighborhood.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Foreclosure Activity Hits Record High in Third Quarter." Realty Track. Oct. 15, 2009.http://www.realtytrac.com/foreclosure/foreclosure-rates.html
  • Hirshon, Nicholas. "Homes abandoned via foreclosures becoming havens for crime, says study." NY Daily News. March 6, 2009.http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/queens/2009/03/05/2009-03-05_homes_abandoned_via_foreclosures_becomin.html
  • Kellogg, Alex B. "Detroit Shrinks Itself, Historic Homes and All." Wall Street Journal. May 13, 2010.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703950804575242433435338728.htmlMunford,
  • John. "Abandoned homes pose problem for Fayette." The Citizen. March 9, 2010.http://www.thecitizen.com/articles/03-09-2010/abandoned-homes-pose-problem-fayette
  • Savage, Jessica. "Abandoned homes are sore spot for county." The Caller. Sep. 11, 2010.http://www.caller.com/news/2010/sep/11/abandoned-homes-a-sore-spot-for-the-county/
  • Zarolli, Jim. "Abandoned Houses Invite Crime in Minneapolis." NPR. June 12, 2008.http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91400652