Since the housing market crash and Great Recession, there has been a massive spike in the number of vacant and abandoned properties. In the third quarter of 2012, the Census Bureau reported 18.1 million vacant homes in the United States. The reasons why properties become vacant are endless, from foreclosures to evictions to strategic abandonment, and unfortunately so are the reasons why properties remain that way.
According to foreclosure data firm RealtyTrac, there are about 532,000 properties that are currently in the possession of banks and other government-sponsored investors. Most of these homes are vacant and not currently listed for sale. Because of this, they often end up being neglected and do nothing but deteriorate and depreciate over time, dragging down the value of the property and the neighborhood as well.
No one likes having a deteriorating home in their community, and the problems caused by vacant homes go far beyond mere unsightliness. For investors, landlords and property managers, abandoned homes and properties will devalue their neighborhood and their investment. Vacant properties nearby often make it difficult for landlords to find tenants, especially high-quality, long-term residents. For landlords seeking tenants that will lease-to-own, vacant properties can even further turn off tenant-buyers.
Vacant and abandoned homes are also highly correlated with crime. Vacant properties often attract squatters and proves a magnet to looters looking for abandoned furniture, pipes, and anything else that can be scavenged from inside the home. Crime further depresses neighborhood property values, and is a major deterrent for potential renters, making it difficult for landlords to find and keep quality tenants.
Beyond attracting crime, vacant properties also attract pests. Bed bugs, cockroaches and rats all thrive in areas with a high proportion of vacant homes, where they can breed and spread unchecked. Neighbors are often subjected to repeated infestations, as pests retreat to the vacant property only to breed and re-infest the neighboring properties again a month later.
So what can landlords do about neighboring vacant properties? The first challenge is discovering who is in possession of a vacant property, which is not always simple. If a bank owns it, sometimes a few persistent phone calls to the bank will bring their attention to it faster. Local property owners can also take photos of the vacant property and report it to the local zoning board or sheriff’s office to report the condition. Another approach is to contact the local property tax office to inquire as to whether the property has been repossessed by the local government or sold at tax sale, and perhaps this process can be expedited through vocal complaints to the right government employees. Concerned property owners can also contact their local elected representative to complain, which often achieves results faster than calling the local bureaucratic office in charge of zoning or tax sales. While these methods may not immediately solve the problem, they are the first steps on the road to saving the value of a neighborhood and investment.