5 rules for the empty home next door
3. Contact the homeowner
Sometimes the quickest, most direct solution is to try to work out an agreement with the owner of the abandoned home.
"In the past, a homeowner who was facing foreclosure may have left town with no forwarding address, and it was something the other neighbors didn't talk about," Beasley says. "But today, with the increased volume of foreclosures, there may not be as much embarrassment."
If the homeowner does leave the community, you can contact the owner in question and suggest ways to work together to keep the property in good shape until it's sold, he says.
At a minimum, the homeowner who has abandoned the house can give you or other neighbors permission to enter the property to help maintain it.
If you're unsure of the homeowner's identity, research local county records for the property's deed, which lists the owner. You also can find information if the bank has a lien on the property, Baytoff says.
If the property has gone through a foreclosure, ownership generally goes to the bank. At that point, it's often easier to work with the financial institution because it likely has a system in place to deal with vacant homes, he says.
“Every town or borough has ordinances that deal with abandoned property.”
"Call the bank and ask for their asset management team," he says. "They are the people the lender hires to manage the property."
Baytoff suggests telling the asset management group how long the property has been empty, detailing the resulting problems, such as broken windows, and making a request to remedy the situation.
"Offer to e-mail the company digital pictures of the property," he says. "Once they realize it's a problem, they're usually quick to solve it."
4. Don't trespass on the property
If a house has been abandoned for weeks or months, you may feel justified going on the property to mow the lawn, pick up trash or otherwise clean the grounds.
Unfortunately, that could put you into legal trouble if you don't have the owner's consent, Jablonski says.
"The first inclination may be to try to maintain the abandoned property," he says. "But if you do, you could be stepping into a trespass issue."
For example, if you mow the lawn and mistakenly cut a cable, you could be liable.
"Your homeowners insurance policy may even be targeted by the owner to collect damages," Jablonski says.
Despite his warning, Jablonski admits concerned neighbors rarely follow the "no trespassing" rule.
"People will go on the property to pick up trash or maybe drop some chlorine into an abandoned backyard pool," he says.
5. Enlist the real estate agent's help
Some abandoned properties may be listed with a broker. If there's a "for sale" sign on the property, contact the agent if the property is in violation of a local ordinance.
Many of these offerings are distressed properties, so agents aren't going to be hosting open houses often, Beasley says. In sluggish real estate markets, months could go by before there is a showing on the property.
Add these factors together, and it could be a while before the agent physically sees the property to identify an issue. For this reason, it's important for nearby residents to "partner" with the agent.
"If a neighbor calls and complains, the agent would usually take care of it quickly," Beasley says. "The agent may have a clause in their contract to care for the upkeep, so they'll handle the repair issues. They'll probably put the maintenance bill into escrow."