Abandoned home in the village

by Frank Daddario
(Akron, NY)

Visitor Question: We live in a small village (pop. 3500) about 20 miles east of Buffalo,N.Y. We have had an abandoned house in the village for 15 years. The house is no longer livable and is crumbling down. The roof has giant holes, broken windows and doors etc. and I think the village is paying to have the weeds cut.

I know the village has condemned the home, and I know they have tried numerous times to contact the home owner who might be in Texas to no avail.

Last week they said they were going to start demolishing it in 10 days. Now they say they can't because asbestos was found. It seems they always have one reason or another for not taking this house down.

Wouldn't it have been easy to assume that the house built probably in the 40's or 50's might have had asbestos in it? To me this house was abandoned by the owner long ago.

It shouldn't have to take 15 years to do something with this property? With the rates of foreclosures increasing, the amount of abandoned homes in the town seems to be multiplying and before they become an epidemic what can be done? There has to be a system that doesn't take 15 years?

Editors’ Reply:

Fifteen years really is a long time. We agree that if the village wants to be proactive about having people keep up their properties, there are ways to do so. Mostly it’s a matter of political will, or perhaps also it is a matter of the local officials not knowing quite how to go about this to stay out of legal trouble.

You—and your officials—can read state law on-line. New York has been aggressive in the last couple of years about making it easier for abandoned property to be dealt with, although those provisions may apply only when a community already has an established land banking mechanism or organization.

Yes, it’s likely that houses built in the 40’s or 50’s have some asbestos tiles or asbestos-wrapped pipes, but the delay from abating the asbestos should be only temporary. If you are only 20 miles from Buffalo, a firm there would be able to abate the asbestos so that the demolition could go forward. It won’t be free (which might be the village’s problem), but it can be done and it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to investigate, book, and have the work done, such as might be true of any household repair you would do at your house.

We suggest that you let your elected officials know that this pace of addressing abandoned homes isn’t acceptable. If you can organize with a group of neighbors and friends, that will be even better. That way you aren’t labeled a kook or someone with an isolated opinion. So start mentioning this problem to your friends and people you encounter in daily life, and see if several of you can’t band together to write a letter, start a petition, and otherwise generally put pressure on your leaders to respond faster.

Private property rights are treasured in most rural locations (and many urban ones), but when a situation goes on for years, we agree that this is bad for communities. We wrote a page on abandoned homes, where you can seek more information.

Longer term, you may want to make sure a property maintenance code or something similar is in place. Perhaps your local leadership has been hampered by lack of good laws to back up its decisions.

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