8 Ways to Help Your Neighborhood
Tired of looking at unkempt foreclosures in your area? Learn how to save your block without putting yourself or your property at risk.
A slump in the real estate market and a spike in foreclosures have resulted in millions of vacant homes in recent years. And the impact of an empty home is felt by the entire neighborhood.
The Problem of Vacancies
Vacant properties look unkempt. Kids may go exploring in and around these homes, risking injury. And as time passes, the properties also can attract wild animals and/or vandals—putting the whole neighborhood at risk.
“This is a significant national issue,” says Daniel Kildee, president of the Center for Community Progress, a nonprofit that partners with local governments to address abandoned property issues. “Virtually every city in America is touched by this problem.”
Things Homeowners Can Do
1. Work with your neighborhood organization.
A collective voice, like that of a neighborhood organization, is louder and more effective than a single one, especially when it’s asking a local government or mortgage company to take action. “Neighborhood organizations promote a sense of community and get people talking to each other about what’s going on in the neighborhood,” says Kildee.
The neighborhood crime watch concept is one model of a group focused on monitoring and maintaining vacant properties. Learn more about watch programs from the USAonWatch-Neighborhood Watch Program.
2. Notice the warning signs.
Neighbors are often the first to notice the subtle signs of a vacancy, such as:
- Piles of mail and fliers
- Overgrown grass and landscaping
- Odd or unpleasant odors
- Animals living under porches
- Strangers hanging around
“It’s not a bad thing for neighbors to be nosy about these things,” says Kildee. It’s going to have a negative effect on everyone if something isn’t done.”
3. Be diligent about protecting your home.
Neglected properties attract crime and are fire hazards. According to the National Fire Protection Association, firefighters respond to home fires in about 6 percent of vacant buildings each year. Protect your own home by keeping doors and vehicles locked, installing motion lights and making sure smoke alarms are in working order.
4. Determine the owner of record.
To ensure property maintenance, contact the person or agency responsible for the vacant home. If the property is up for sale, identify the owner or the real estate agent. Or, if it’s in foreclosure, call the mortgage company that holds the title.
The city or county recorder or assessor will have records of property ownership. “It is important to identify vacant properties as soon as possible so they can be monitored,” says Kildee. “Sometimes the owner is going to be more vigilant if they know somebody is paying attention.”
5. Call the authorities.
If you see anything that seems suspicious or potentially dangerous, call the police. “Pay attention, and don’t be afraid to act,” says Kildee.
6. Know the local regulations.
Cities have public nuisance regulations and laws addressing property maintenance. Some require owners to register their vacant properties and pay an annual fee that can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. The fees help cover any government costs to care for a property, while encouraging the owner to rehabilitate or sell the property.
“You’d think an empty building would require less public service, but it’s the opposite,” says Kildee. “Police and fire departments, as well as building code inspectors, are regularly called to vacant properties.” Brush up on local laws through your local government’s website or your elected city representative.
7. Do it yourself … but only as a last resort.
If a property owner or city won’t address maintenance issues such as mowing the lawn or clearing snow, your neighborhood organization may need to. “Do what you can through the owner or local government, but don’t wait for something bad to happen,” says Kildee.
However, don’t take action until you have exhausted efforts to get the owner of record or the city to respond. Getting written permission from the owner is one way to protect yourself. “In extreme cases, some communities allow you to go to court to be appointed receiver of property just for maintenance,” says Kildee.