Derelict houses, dormant strip malls, and other types of vacant and abandoned properties are among the most visible outward signs of a community’s reversing fortunes.
Properties that have turned from productive use to disuse vary widely in size, shape, and former use. But these vacant and abandoned properties are more than just a symptom of larger economic forces at work in the community; their association with crime, increased risk to health and welfare, plunging property values, and escalating municipal costs make them problems in and of themselves, contributing to overall community decline and disinvestment.
Our Community, however, views vacant properties as opportunities for productive reuse, as community gardens, and health facilities. Empty homes can become assets in neighborhood stabilization and revitalization that can be renovated and reoccupied.
Although nationwide factors (in particular, the foreclosure crisis) helped create these vacancies, local factors — the condition of the properties, the health of the local housing market, and the strength of the regional economy — are what shape the range of options available for returning these properties to productive use.
The most desired outcome is to quickly return a property to its previous use — an owner-occupied residence or a thriving business. However, tight credit, weak markets, population loss, or other factors may require other solutions such as demolition, conversion of owner- occupied housing to rental housing, or replacement.
Properties may become vacant for a variety of reasons, some of which are relatively benign. A property that is for rent or sale can be vacant for a short time, and a vacation home might be vacant for most of the year. If these properties are well maintained by responsible owners, they will not become eyesores or depress neighboring property values. In general, a vacant property becomes a problem when the property owner abandons the basic responsibilities of ownership, such as routine maintenance or mortgage and property tax payments. Multiple variables can lead authorities to designate a property as either vacant or abandoned, including the physical condition of a structure, the amount of time that a property has been in that particular condition, and the relationship of the owner to the property.
Vacant and abandoned properties are widely considered to attract crime because of the “broken windows theory” — that one sign of abandonment or disorder (a broken window) will encourage further disorder. Increased vacancies leave fewer neighbors to monitor and combat criminal activity. Boarded doors, unkempt lawns, and broken windows can signal an unsupervised safe haven for criminal activity or a target for theft.
Vacant and abandoned properties can quickly fall into enough disrepair that they no longer comply with local building codes. Code enforcement officials, who are empowered to secure properties that pose a threat to public health, safety, and welfare, can then issue citations and levy fines on problem properties.
Successful early intervention is the best course of action because deterioration compounds quickly over time.
If you see house that has been vacant for a long period of time and looks to be abandoned, please notify the City of Lakeport Code Enforcement Division at (707)263-5615 ext. 205 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.