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Foreclosed or abandoned houses threaten neighborhoods

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It's a case of beauty and the beast—a story playing out in neighborhoods across the country. Having an abandoned house nearby is ugly to look at, but that's not all. 

Kevin Berschinski says that one rundown house has opened a door to crime in his Los Angeles neighborhood.

"The house being abandoned has drawn prostitution activity to the side of the house," says Berschinski. "We had a drive-by shooting in a neighboring house here that I think is related to this particular tagging on this house and needless to say, it's a huge distress on the neighborhood."

One of the biggest reasons for vacant houses is the increase in foreclosures since 2008. Attorney Scott Fisher says neighbors left with a foreclosed or abandoned house on their street face real challenges.

"There is no property owner there, so you have to locate the lender who is now the owner of the property," says Fisher. "The lender, as the owner, has some obligations to take care of the property as the homeowner." 

It's not just an issue of foreclosures. Sometimes an elderly or financially-strapped neighbor simply can't maintain their home. And the house on Berschinski's street is in limbo—the owner died, leaving the property entangled in probate.

Mollie Adams worries how the house reflects on the entire neighborhood.

"Are there many houses like this?" asks Adams. "That's the first thing I would say if I didn't live on this block or know anything about this neighborhood and somebody showed me this house. I wouldn't get a good feeling right away."

"When I see this house it makes me angry," adds Berschinski. "When a property is overgrown and you have weeds and it's ill-maintained, people throw trash on top of trash. They take it as a sign to throw their own trash on it and it becomes a bigger mess very quickly."

Attorney Fisher says a rundown house can also significantly lower home values.

"Studies have shown that in neighborhoods where a property owner has failed to maintain their property, that there is a reduction in property value of up to 20 percent," says Fisher.

If you're dealing with an empty run-down house in your neighborhood, Fisher recommends taking the following steps:

  • Call the police if you notice any crime or squatting on the property.
  • Contact the official owner to clean up the property. Remember, the owner may be a lender.
  • If that doesn't work, you should file a code violation complaint with your city or county.

Finally—get your neighbors involved in your efforts. The more people that speak out, the better chance you'll have of being heard and protecting your neighborhood.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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