The legal word for land that is dilapidated, hazardous, or unattractive is “blighted property.” Each state has its own set of blighted property laws for determining whether a property is blighted. Typical criteria include:
- The house is uninhabitable
- The property is dangerous
- The property has been abandoned for a set period of time (usually at least 1 year)
- The property poses an immediate threat to other individuals or property
What Are “Blighting Influences?”
Conditions in such structures that are unsafe or damaging to the health, safety, or morals of the occupants of such buildings or other residents of the municipality or that have a bad impact on properties in the neighborhood are referred to as blighting influences.
Among these conditions are, but are not limited to, the following:
- Defects that increase the risks of a fire, accident, or another calamity;
- Air pollution;
- Light or sanitary facilities;
- Structural defects;
- Dead and dying trees, limbs, or other unsightly natural growth or unsightly appearances that constitute a blight to adjoining property, the neighborhood, or the city;
- Walls, sidings, or exteriors of a quality and appearance that is not commensurate with the character
What Can Be Done If I Live Next to Blighted Property?
Almost every state, county, and urban jurisdiction has a blighted property statute.
If you notice a blighted building in your neighborhood, report it to the appropriate local government agency.
Depending on where you live, this could be the city or town hall, the mayor’s office, or the Department of Housing. Some larger cities even have task groups dedicated to the problem of derelict property. A city or town hall representative should be able to tell you who to notify.
Typically, local authorities will inspect the property to see if it fits the legal criteria for being labeled blighted. The property’s owner will be located, notified, and given the opportunity to undertake voluntary repairs to rectify the concerns.
If the owner does not voluntarily comply, local authorities may remedy the situation themselves and bill the property owner for the costs involved.
What are Legal Remedies for Blighted Property Violations?
A blight violation is a local ordinance infraction akin to a public nuisance.
The legal remedies for blighted property violations differ by jurisdiction.
However, generally, a written blight violation notice (BVN) received by a respondent will include a description of the alleged violation as well as the date and time of the hearing.
When a BVN is issued, the respondent who received the BVN might have the following options:
- Accept responsibility and pay the fine and fees before the hearing date: Early payment could reduce the fine.
- Attend the hearing and contest the blight violation, with or without an attorney: If a property owner is found responsible at the hearing, the fine and fees issued must be paid by the hearing date; otherwise, a late payment penalty could be levied.
Because of the potential for additional tax revenue that a private-to-private land transfer might give, blighted property is among the most susceptible to municipal action.
Vacancy vs. Blight vs. Abandonment
Although the terms “blight,” “vacancy,” and “abandonment” are frequently used interchangeably, they refer to distinct circumstances.
Blight is a hazy phrase with a complicated racial history. It was first applied to slum housing to indicate the harmful public health implications of inadequate housing. It was later used as a legal rationale for urban regeneration in predominantly African American districts.
Today, blight refers to a broad group of properties in deterioration, vacancy, abandonment, foreclosure, or environmental contamination.
Vacancy and abandonment are more specific phrases.
Vacant properties are those that are not occupied but may still be owned. Some properties are vacant due to typical market turnover (i.e., the house may be for sale or rent).
When a property lacks active ownership or stewardship and becomes a public nuisance (e.g., the property deteriorates or gets neglected and in a condition of chronic deterioration, or the neighborhood or block contains many unoccupied properties), vacancy becomes an issue.
In contrast, abandoned properties have no active owner and have generally become uninhabitable, structurally hazardous, or beyond repair.
What Is the Scope of the Blighted Property Problem?
Thousands of homes are vacant and abandoned around the country, while the scope of the problem is impossible to define.
Between 2005 and 2010, the number of unoccupied housing units surged from 9.5 million to 12 million due to the housing market crisis.
Vacancy and abandonment are typically more prevalent in certain areas of the country, including older industrial “legacy cities” such as Cleveland, Ohio (40,000 vacant lots and buildings), Youngstown, Ohio (26,000), and Detroit, Michigan (164,000), which have lost many residents over several decades.
Race, redlining, disinvestment, and mass migration are among the many causes of population loss and decline in legacy cities.
Thousands of abandoned homes and properties may be found in many of these cities, a problem aggravated by the housing crisis and the 2008 recession.
The housing market crisis also resulted in massive foreclosures in cities that had not previously experienced deindustrialization.
As a result, cities have more infrastructure—homes, roads, and businesses—than the surviving people can support.
Blighted property difficulties are also prevalent in places with better housing markets, such as Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis, and Saint Louis, where vacancy and abandonment remain concentrated in select districts.
Property Upkeep Charges
Cities spend money every year to maintain unoccupied and abandoned properties by doing things like trimming grass, cleaning trash or junk, and boarding up houses.
According to studies, the cost of protecting and maintaining abandoned properties can range from $233 to $1,744 per property.
Following the housing crisis, a United States Government Accountability Office analysis discovered that federal agencies spent $1,744 per property in 2010 to preserve real estate-owned assets under their control. The most significant post-foreclosure expenses were trash pickup and yard maintenance.
Studies of the expenses of maintaining abandoned houses in individual cities reveal comparable costs.
According to a 2010 analysis of city-owned unoccupied and abandoned properties in Philadelphia, the city spent $20 million per year to maintain 40,000 properties, an average of $500 per property.
In 2010, Chicago paid approximately $875,000 to secure 627 homes, at the cost of slightly less than $1,400 per house, while Detroit spent $1.4 million to secure 6,000 properties, at the cost of approximately $233 per property.
Seeking Legal Help for Blighted Property
You have numerous alternatives if you own property that has been judged to be blighted.
If the repairs required to fix the infractions are small, the simplest way is for the repairs to be made willingly. If the repairs are considerable, many municipalities will provide loans and tax breaks to help you pay for them.
If you dispute the determination that your property is blighted, you should consult with a property lawyer immediately. A property lawyer can assist you in understanding blight laws and determining the best way to appeal the verdict.
Furthermore, suppose the municipality makes repairs to your property. In that case, they will sue you to collect their expenditures, and you will need the assistance of an experienced attorney to fight your case.