Why the Abandoned House in Your Neighborhood May Be a Safety Risk
When a homeowner splits, a little attention from neighbors can keep everyone safer
That abandoned house down the street may lure criminals and other varmints, such as rats. It could even catch on fire. In other words, it’s a potential hazard to the neighborhood, especially to kids who might be tempted to explore it.
If you have an abandoned house on your block, here are seven things you can do to protect your family, neighbors and home.
1. Make sure it’s locked. An abandoned house that’s unlocked can draw illegal tenants, criminals or curious kids. For example, firefighters suspect squatters may have set fire to a vacant home in Salt Lake City that recently went up in flames for the second time in 18 months. And police in Akron, Ohio, found evidence that a man was running a dog-fighting ring out of an empty house.
If you feel safe doing so, walk over to the property and check to make sure doors are locked, windows are shut and locked and that there’s no garage or shed that’s accessible, says Claude McGavic, executive director for the National Association of Home Inspectors. Otherwise, ask police to check out the home, he says.
2. Contact the owner. If you find an unlocked door or broken window, contact the owner of the property if you can, McGavic says. If you don’t know who owns the house, check the online records of the county tax collector or property appraiser’s office to get a name and address, McGavic says. Write a letter to the property owner listing your concerns and asking that they be resolved, he suggests. Also call your local police to tip them off about the situation, he says.
3. Shine a light on it. One easy way to deter intruders if the abandoned house is next to yours: Put up exterior lights outside your home on the side that faces the abandoned house, McGavic recommends. “A well-lit property is much more secure than one that’s dark,” he says. He recommends motion-sensing lights, which will turn on if a prowler comes within range. And ask the neighbor who lives on the other side of the empty house to put up lights on their side, he says.
4. Alert neighborhood groups. If your neighborhood has a Home Owners Association (HOA), get the group involved, McGavic says. “If there’s a HOA, there may be some pretty tough rules that require the owner to keep the lawn cut, the shrubs trimmed and the windows covered,” he says. In some states, a HOA might have the power to seize the property an owner has allowed it to fall into disrepair, he says. If there’s no HOA, contact your local neighborhood association to see if neighborhood leaders would be willing to step in, he says. Some neighborhood associations have made projects out of fixing up and selling abandoned houses.
5. Keep an eye out. Look for any unusual activity, such as cars in the driveway or people entering or leaving the home, McGavic says. If you see cars, snap a photo of the license plates — or jot them down — and notify police, he says. Remind your neighbors to watch for suspicious activity, too. “The more people who know about the situation, the better,” McGavic says.
6. Don’t let your kids wander over. Tell your children not to play near the abandoned house or even peek in the windows. Empty homes can pose serious danger to curious children — especially if there’s a swimming pool, McGavic says.
Pools aren’t the only problem. Abandoned houses can have rotten porches a kid could fall through, for example, or rodents that could bite, or dangerous chemicals left behind in the garage or shed, McGavic says. “Who knows what someone may have left behind — even a firearm.”
7. Complain to the city. If the house has an overgrown yard, trash strewn around or discarded furniture or other junk that could pose a health or safety hazard, call your city building or codes department to file a complaint, McGavic says. In addition to being ugly to look at, these conditions can attract rats, snakes and other critters — and pose more danger to kids, McGavic says. “That’s a nuisance,” he says.
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