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Vacant and abandoned properties and the blight that comes with them cause numerous problems for local communities- namely, decreased property values, increased safety hazards, and reduced local tax revenue. The effects snowball as the public responds to the lowered property values and health and safety concerns- one vacant property can soon lead to others and to nuisance problems that affect the quality of life for everyone in the community.

Limited resources as well as local political and economic factors, affect how local governments, nonprofits, and neighbors are able to address vacant and abandoned properties in their area. For organizations who want to revitalize neighborhoods by identifying and turning around vacant properties for reuse, achieving these goals is made more complicated because the definition of what is considered a vacant and abandoned property varies widely from state to state, or even county to county.

Identifying Vacant and Abandoned Property in Your Area

Across the United States, there is no single standard definition of what constitutes a vacant and abandoned property. Instead, there is a patchwork of state statutes and local ordinances. Where there is no statute, local governments have to look to case law and settled court precedent for guidance. Private property rights are generally sacrosanct and local governments are rightfully leery to take action on someone’s property without first making sure that the owner won’t take issue.

In response to the absence of universal definitions of vacancy and abandonment and the resulting complications that impede local efforts to identify vacant and abandoned properties nationally, the Legal League 100 Special Initiatives Working Group, a trade group comprised of financial services law firms, has created a Vacant and Abandoned Property Law Guide. This guide offers a state-by-state review of the laws around vacant and abandoned property- summarizing relevant statutes and/or case law for each state. Except for Minnesota, Idaho, and North Carolina, where there are no statutory definitions, there is information included for every state in the US, and many are quite detailed.

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