How registering empty properties helps curb appeal

Visitor Question: Our community has a number of abandoned and dilapidated buildings that need to be taken down or repaired. Please tell me about the article written about registering empty properties and how that helps a town/city keep the curb appeal during the vacancy period.

Editors Reply: Thanks for the focused question. The quick answer is that as much as we like vacant building registration requirements, and have written about them on this website, more than registration will be required to keep up the "curb appeal" or appearance of these properties.

The requirement for registration is meant as both a method of assuring that contact information for a building is up to date and as a subtle deterrent to holding onto vacant buildings when no future use is expected or even possible given a bad market.

If the appearance of a vacant home or commercial business is a problem--and usually it becomes one if the vacancy lasts too long--other kinds of codes are necessary to address the situation.

Municipal property maintenance codes or existing building codes may be in place. Either one should deal with some of the more drastic appearance issues, such as broken out windows, doors standing wide open, or the building or its porch literally falling down.

Sometimes the town/city doesn't want to enforce the code that it has on the books, or seems unsure of how to actually enforce it. If it is a case of unwillingness to enforce, you have to put pressure on your elected officials to get in there and develop some spine in order to address the problem. You as a citizen could talk informally with your town's attorney too, and figure out whether he or she will have the backbone to stand up for good quality code enforcement.

So one avenue for dealing with the appearance aspect of vacant buildings is enacting one of the standard existing building or property maintenance codes and then enforcing it with fines, injunctions, or whatever is allowed in your city codes and state laws.

If a city or town does not want to go this route, or has been discouraged from enforcement due to unfavorable court rulings when they did it wrong, citizens still can develop private ways to deal with these buildings.

Several cities have developed private artists' groups to paint and decorate boarded up doors and windows, for example. A neighborhood association may decide to paint, trim back shrubs, or otherwise improve the appearance of the vacant building. Of course you should be checking with the property owner to the best of your ability before entering and improving someone else's property.

Incidentally, that is where registration laws can be helpful, since it is surprising how difficult it can be to contact the owner of an abandoned and dilapidated property. This can especially be true of property owned by heirs.

Sometimes you can convince your local government to provide some modest funding for the expenses of these private groups. You might be able to get free paint and other supplies from one of the large home stores in your community; this can be easier than you think. Both government and corporate donations of money or supplies often can be leveraged by showing that you have volunteer labor lined up to do the work.

The larger issue here is developing the market for the vacant properties, and that is a much larger discussion, involving economic development in the case of commercial land and neighborhood quality in the case of housing. You and other concerned neighbors can find many ideas on this website for how to attack the larger problems that are leading to several vacancies in a neighborhood.

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