By RONDA KAYSEN
Vacant House Next Door
My friend lives in a row of attached houses. The house next door, on a corner lot, is vacant and in disrepair. Vandals have broken windows and doors. The roof is damaged. Inside, the house is piled with trash left by the former owner, a hoarder, who died. Rats and raccoons abound. The heir to the property lives across the country, has no interest in the house and has not responded to repeated requests to sell or repair it. My friend pays for the yard to be mowed and the doors and windows to be boarded up whenever vandals damage it, but this is getting expensive. She is concerned that her house will be structurally damaged if the attached house collapses. The city has been advised repeatedly about this, but hasn’t responded. What options does she have?
An abandoned property poses a health and safety hazard for the entire block, not just the person who lives next door. It attracts vermin, as your friend has noticed, as well as vagrants. And a vacant house full of belongings could breed mold, catch fire or even collapse.
If your friend is concerned about an imminent danger, she should call 911. Otherwise, she should call 311 and file an unsafe buildings report with the Department of Buildings, which has a unit dedicated to such properties.
The department can initiate a proceeding against the building in state court. It could survey and inspect the property, and serve the owner with a summons and a notice to fix the problems. A judge could ultimately give the city authority to make repairs, tear the house down or sell it at auction. “These situations arise when the owner of a property is deceased or has walked away from the property,” said Jonathan H. Newman, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
Your friend needs the support of her neighbors, who should be equally concerned about the health and safety risk at the corner. Her local City Council member or community board could press the Buildings Department to move more swiftly or could find out what has already been done, if anything. A coalition could bring a private nuisance lawsuit against the current owner or the bank, if there is a mortgage on the property, said Thomas P. Kerrigan, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. But all these things take time (and in the case of a lawsuit, money), so your friend needs some backup.
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A version of this article appears in print on November 22, 2015, on page RE9 of the New York edition with the headline: When the Noisy Neighbor is a Church.