Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Vacant Properties: Eyesores and Invitations for Trouble

With the current state of the housing market, many communities are dealing (or not dealing) with vacant properties.  The city has a process for reporting vacant properties through the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.  They are responsible for ensuring vacant properties are  maintained according to the  "Vacant Building Maintenance Standard".  The city holds a certain level of responsibility, but in my opinion, so does the community.  See something, say something!

The agency inspects vacant properties for code violations periodically, however it blows me away that people can live next to, across from or adjacent to a vacant property that clearly poses health and safety risk and not report it.  According to the first section of the "Vacant Building Maintenance Standard" code:

A building shall be adequately maintained if:

(1) Doors, windows, areaways, and other openings are weather-tight and secured against entry by birds, vermin, and trespassers, and missing or broken doors, windows, and other openings are covered with 1/2 inch CDX plywood that is weather protected, tightly fitted to the opening, and secured by screws or bolts;

The city also has a "Nuisance Abatement Fund"  These funds assist DCRA in making repairs of  housing violations or unsafe property maintenance conditions.  According to the DCRA website, under the "Emergency Violation Process" section, "Whenever the owner of any vacant building shall fail to enclose the doors, windows, areaways, or other openings of the property, the DCRA may immediately enclose the property to meet the standard. Subsequent to the enclosure, the DCRA must give the owner notice."

However the city will only know if someone reports it.

While looking for more info on DC vacant property issues, I came across the following blog, it has a lot of good information and links.

The blog also discussed the broken window theory, which points to evidence that a building in disrepair in any neighborhood is an invitation for trouble. "Untended property becomes fair game for people out for fun or plunder..."  Check out the blogspot and clink on "broken windows" to read more about the theory and evidence that supports the theory.

Until the housing market completely turns around, many communities will have vacant properties.  As responsible members of the community we must do our part to make sure the city is keeping these properties up to code until they can be placed on the market.  Make a call, write a letter, or roll out the welcome mat for the family of racoons, feral cats, and rats that will take up residence in the house left abandoned and neglected on your street!