Vacant property kills communities. Vacant and deteriorating property increases crime, depresses property values, diminishes the tax base, lowers community self-esteem, repels potential tenants, investors and tourists and breeds rampant apathy. There is absolutely no reason a community should ever suffer from vacant property. Every city and town is afforded by law the ability to dictate what is permissible in terms of what gets built, how property is used and how it is maintained. We have been bullied for so long by the anti-regulation crowd, that we actually believe we don’t have a say, even worse, we have come to sympathize with people that aren’t maintaining their property and defend their right not to do so.
Let me break it down. Communities put laws in the books as a means to set a collective standard. This is way of saying, “These are our expectations as a community, and these are the accountability measures we will use to enforce them”. This includes stealing, speed limits, and things like building code enforcement. These regulations are put in place to protect citizens and their investments. We all understand the value of having laws and why we need to enforce them. So consider laws around property maintenance. They are put in place to mitigate risk and protect property values. Without these protections, it is far too risky to invest. I don’t want to build or renovate a building in a city where the person next to me has no obligation to take care of their property. Hell, no one wants to- and that’s why money never flows into these cities. The risk is too great. When we don’t enforce existing laws, we give people the green light to ignore them. If you saw everyone was driving 90 miles an hour past a police officer while they smiled and waved, most people would take away the message that it is okay to speed. This is exactly the message we are sending to property deadbeats.
The costs of vacant and declining buildings are devastating and the benefits to combating this issue are innumerable. Stop waiting for something to change in your town, make the change. Don’t stand for it anymore. Speak up, be the squeaky wheel. Stop defending the deadbeats and call them what they are, lawbreakers. Demand action be taken. People will tell you, nothing can be done. They are wrong. They don’t know what they are talking about, because a thousand other towns have already done something. People will start blathering about property rights, and you can tell them they are right, the owner of a well-maintained property has the right not to have her value damaged by a deadbeat owner. Property rights were never meant to protect the deadbeats, they were put in place to protect those investing. If a councilperson or city solicitor tells you it is illegal to go after vacant property owners, please show them all the examples where it has been legally done. Like here and here and here and here and here and here. They are misinformed and avoiding action.
Standards drop easily and are much harder to raise, but the only way to improve a community is in raising its standards and asking more. The vacant property fight is one worth having and one you can win. You may think you are fighting it alone, but plenty of people in your community feel the same way. Everything in life requires maintenance and property owners know this, they just don’t want to spend the time nor the money. It is not anyone’s right to own property and if someone can’t take care of it, they should forgo the ability to own it, because it is at the cost of everyone else.
The first paragraph of the vacant property registry legislation on the books in Painesville, Ohio states this concept perfectly “Shifting the cost of burden from the general citizenry to the owners of the blighted buildings will be the result of this chapter.”