Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to abandoned buildings and lots, how they are intended to work, under what conditions they should work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
1 Preventing,
managing, and
reusing abandoned
properties
Establishes successive
and complementary
program layers
that address
abandonment at
different stages
....an abandoned-property
program
includes a few
responses from each
category to ensure
all dimensions
of the problem
are appropriately
addressed
Police should secure a
commitment from other
government, nonprofit,
and community groups
to work cooperatively
and share responsibility
2 Streamlining
and coordinating
local bureaucracy,
reporting
mechanisms, and
infrastructure
Provides employees
with better access
to technical
information, a
broader knowledge
base, and ability
to make swifter
decisions so
implementation and
execution are not
delayed
....task force
personnel and
materials are located
together in a single
facility or office;
computer systems
are integrated with
Internet access
Physical space;
establishing lines
of authority,
accountability, and
reporting mechanisms,
management and
supervision for
personnel who come
from different agencies
3 Observing due
process and
developing capacity
and support
Forces employees to
think systematically
and observe legal
and administrative
constraints, which
helps avoid making
decisions that do not
follow prescribed
plans
....strategic planning
is institutionalized
and routinely
used as a means to
identify problem
properties and
written plans are
used to formulate
promising responses
Training in legal
affairs, strategic and
assumption-based
planning are key;
government should not
overextend itself and
risk losing intensity on
individual properties or
losing court cases due to
overload
Specific Responses to Abandoned Buildings and Lots
Increasing Effort
4 Physically securing
abandoned
properties
Makes it harder
for people to
access the physical
property and engage
in criminal or
disorderly behavior
....crime, disorder
conditions or
injuries are reported
at the abandoned
property
Government may have
to bear the costs to
secure the property
and may not recoup
the costs even after
5 Altering
environmental
features
Makes it harder for
people to approach
the affected property
and the surrounding
area; sends the visual
message that the area
is properly governed
....the changes are
part of a master plan
for redevelopment
so the changes are
systematic and
permanent.
Government must
weigh the costs and
benefits as the costs of
the intervention are not
likely to be recouped
from the property owner
Increasing Risks
6 Initiating privatized
public nuisance
abatement lawsuits
Increases the risk
that the property
owner will forfeit
the property and be
subject to substantial
fines if conditions
are not corrected
....acquiring
an abandoned
building or vacant
property is part of a
systematic strategic
development plan
involving residents
and a community
development
corporation (CDC)
Must legally establish
a CDC with statutory
authority to act
on behalf of the
government; must
reconcile city ordinances
with state laws and
home-rule issues
7 Aggressively
enforcing building
codes
Delivers the
ultimatum that
property owners
must correct all
code violations or
their interest in the
property may be
liquidated
....coupled with an
organized propertymaintenance
campaign, or
neighborhoodenhancement
program; citizens are
involved and able to
easily identify and
report abandoned
buildings and
occupied nuisance
properties; private
and nonprofit
resources can be
leveraged; it is
proactive rather than
reactive
Government must be
willing to initiate legal
proceedings and seek
enforcement for failing
to pay fines or address
deficiencies; state
law may compel the
government to provide
relocation assistance
if the government
orders occupants to
vacate due to unsafe
conditions; does not
address buildings or
properties that are
sealed and maintained
and for which property
taxes have been paid;
outside the gambit of
systematic economic
redevelopment
8 Establishing a
mortgage fraud task
force
Pools local, state,
county, and federal
law enforcement
and regulatory
agencies into a single
group dedicated
to prosecuting
mortgage fraud and
concentrating their
efforts
....all stakeholders
supply personnel
and resources
to the task force
proportionately
The task force may
compete for priority
and attention from
police executives and
elected leaders who
would rather use police
resources elsewhere
9 Creating incentives
for responsible
ownership and
occupancy of
abandoned buildings
The presence and
respectable lifestyle
of, for example,
police officers
and teachers in a
revitalization zone
are intended to
reduce certain crimes
and conditions
....the available
housing units are
densely concentrated
instead of widely
dispersed, which
may dilute the
effectiveness
How "revitalization
zones" are defined (i.e.,
the zone boundaries)
will determine the
concentration levels
of available housing
units; smaller and more
compact zones are likely
to have the greatest
impact on crime
Reducing Rewards
10 Acquiring properties
through tax
foreclosure
Acts as a disincentive
for an owner to
allow the property
to deteriorate by
seizing ownership,
then working with
developers to sell it
or rehabilitate it and
restore it to the tax
rolls
....the market value
of the property
does not exceed
the cost of legal
proceedings; the
government partners
with nonprofit
developers and
civic associations to
revitalize the area
Government must
be willing to absorb
property tax losses until
it can sell the property;
some developers and
real estate speculators
may not rehabilitate the
property but use it as a
speculative investment
leaving it in a state of
disrepair while keeping
taxes current; legal
proceedings and due
process are lengthy and
cumbersome given that
laws favor property
owners over the
community
11 Acquiring properties
through an order of
possession
Gives the
government the
ability to restore
abandoned buildings
to productive
use, particularly
buildings of historic
or architectural
character that are
deteriorating
....the taxes
are current so
foreclosure is not an
option and eminent
domain is not an
option
Order of possession is
a lengthy process; the
government or third
party should have the
financial resources
and willingness to
rehabilitate the building
in a timely manner
12 Promoting
responsible property
ownership through
special tax sales
May keep
speculators from
acquiring property
and leaving it to sit
in an abandoned
state; gives the
government more
flexibility to sell
abandoned property
....the government
works cooperatively
with a reputable
developer or CDC
to rehabilitate the
building
Requires authorizing
state legislation and
may require a local
abandoned property list
13 Acquiring properties
through asset
forfeiture
Acts as a disincentive
for an owner to
allow criminal
activity to take place
on his property by
confiscating assets
connected to the
crime
....the assets sought
are not out of equity,
or worthless
A written policy that
defines the mission,
legal boundaries,
and necessary
resources; community
involvement; how
"success" will be
measured
14 Acquiring properties
through eminent
domain
Gives the
government
the ability to
take control of
a large area for
redevelopment
....costs to remediate
any hazards (e.g.,
chemicals) are
low and it is used
in designated
redevelopment areas
instead of individual
"spot blight" parcels
Cost of protracted
litigation; political
climate must be able
to withstand the
fallout from such a
controversial approach;
will cost the government
to buy each property
15 Maintaining an
abandoned property
master list
Facilitates certain
legal actions
to take control
of abandoned
properties
....doing so actually
enhances the
government's power
over abandoned
properties and is
authorized by law
Creating and
maintaining lists is time
consuming
16 Acquiring properties
through a land bank
program
Provides
communities with
a pool of available
property ready for
development
....it involves
community
members
and regional
governments that
form a single entity
with independent
statutory authority
who have a
strategic vision and
written economic
development plan
A considerable
investment in time,
planning and shared
expenses; changes
to state laws and
inter-governmental
agreements among
jurisdictions that
share the land bank;
overcoming political
opposition to creating a
special "authority"
17 Razing abandoned
buildings
Removes unsightly
and dangerous
structures and
clears the way for
redevelopment
....the government
is relatively certain
it will not recapture
its previous
population level
and the property
can be put to better
use; it is part of
a comprehensive
redevelopment
strategy
Government must
be willing to absorb
costs associated with
demolition until it
can sell the property;
typically a last resort
effort after a building
has been declared a
dangerous nuisance
Removing Excuses
18 Registering
foreclosed properties
Makes reaching
responsible parties
easier for conditions
on their foreclosed
properties
....police and code
enforcement work
cooperatively as
a single entity for
enforcement
Requires authorizing
legislation; government
must be prepared
for litigation if the
agreement is not
fulfilled; lending
institutions may not
maintain the property as
required
19 Establishing an
abandoned property
early warning system
Gives the
government an
advantage of
confronting a
problem and a
property owner
before adverse
conditions escalate
....resources permit
keeping the data
current and taking
action before
the property is
abandoned
Keeping current data is
labor intensive; cost of
creating a system where
none exists
20 Educating owners/
landlords/place
managers to
facilitate voluntary
compliance
Provides property
owners with
information
on property
rehabilitation, the
probate process, and
financing sources,
as well as advice
on how to prevent
vandalism and other
criminal activity
....police and
code enforcement
have the time
and resources to
dedicate to training;
supplemented
by nonprofit
groups and other
government housing
resources
Adequate and accessible
facilities to host
the training; strong
cooperation with code
enforcement officials
21 Establishing capital
rehabilitation
programs
Low-cost loans
and grants create
incentives for
property owners to
stay in their houses,
and occupied
houses create viable
communities
....the government
can acquire state
or federal grant
funds and work
collaboratively with
nonprofit groups
and banks; loans
and grants should
be conditioned
on attending
a foreclosure
counseling class
Government should
be willing to lien the
property to recoup the
financial investment
if the property owner
defaults on the loan
22 Conducting public
education campaigns
Informs residents
and others about
how to report
problems and issues
with abandoned
properties and
potential hazards for
children and adults
....it is part of a
comprehensive
strategy to prevent
abandonment,
correct conditions,
and reuse the
property
Creating a series of
interrelated messages:
1) how to report
abandoned properties
and suspicious activity;
2) abandoned properties
for sale; and 3) risks
and consequences for
abandoning a property;
may be costly to
advertise and buy time;
use multiple media
outlets
Reducing Provocations
23 Creating urban
homesteading
programs
Makes low-cost
housing available
by using buildings
that would
otherwise stand
abandoned and
facilitates squatters'
compliance with the
law
....the government
works cooperatively
with civic groups
that promote
homesteading
instead of squatting
The program must
have legal authorization
enacted by state statute
or city ordinance
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
24 Conducting
governmentinitiated
cosmetic
improvement and
cleanup campaigns
Improves safety
and signals the
government is
serious about
maintaining
neighborhood
aesthetics and
character
....the government
is able to fund the
initial maintenance
effort and recoup
associated expenses
for improvements
Temporary, time
consuming and costly;
does not address the
underlying problem;
government should
be willing to lien the
property and endure
protracted legal
proceedings to recover
the expenses
25 Conducting
additional police
patrols and
enforcement
crackdowns, and
continually arresting
offenders at problem
properties
Provides shortterm
relief from
crime and disorder
conditions and
reduces victimization
....enforcement is
coupled with other
long-term strategies
designed to abate
the source of the
problem
Compared to other
police priorities, how
much harm is caused by
forgoing enforcement
effort at abandoned
properties in favor of
enforcement elsewhere
26 Offering propertytax
incentives
Provides a midrange
incentive for
property owners to
rehabilitate their
property and restore
neighborhood
aesthetics
....the government
requires developers
to sign a "statement
of intent" that
requires them to
submit a written
plan including
milestones for
development or
face fines and/or
property forfeiture
Some developers may
not rehabilitate the
property; rather, they
use the property as a
speculative investment;
government must
be prepared for
enforcement and
lengthy litigation
27 Holding property
owners criminally
liable for illegal
conduct on their
property
Provides sanctions
for owners who
allow or facilitate
crime and disorder
on their property
....the property has
yet to be completely
abandoned and
the property owner
still enjoys tenant
income, or the
property has equity
above the current
mortgage and is
habitable
Property owners
may forego property
revitalization efforts and
disinvest further if the
government is perceived
as too "heavy handed;"
may precipitate
abandonment in
response; political
opposition
28 Increasing formal
surveillance through
closed circuit
television (CCTV)
Extends formal area
surveillance into
areas where police
may not be able to
go
....the field of
vision is clear and
it is coupled with
other intervention
strategies that
address the source of
the problem
Costly to purchase,
install and maintain;
requires 24-hour staffing
for maximum benefit;
privacy issues
29 Operating a
specialized housing/
problem-property
court
Consolidates all
property issues into
a single court, where
dispositions are
expedited
....all housing issues
involving police,
code enforcement,
and others are
consolidated and
heard by the housing
court
Spreads existing judicial
resources thinner; costly
to implement in terms
of personnel, space, and
equipment
30 Charging service fees
for police response
Gives the
government a
small measure to
recoup expenditures
associated with
problem properties
....coupled with
other strategies to
abate the problem
and reuse the
property
Requires enabling
legislation; may
exacerbate the owner's
financial problems;
clear and definitive
legal language to avoid
problems with civil or
criminal proceedings