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from Local Attorney, Michael H. Wasserman

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chicago Abandoned & Vacant Buildings

We all know that the three most important factors in determining the desirability of a property are location, location, and location. As such, sharp Chicago area home buyers and the real estate professionals who advise them, are discovering - and embracing - Derek Eder's Vacant and Abandoned building finder tool.

Built on data from Chicago's 311 reporting service, this site shows detailed information about known "problem" properties on an easily navigated google map overlay. Mr. Eder built this as part of the Apps for Metro Chicago contest. This app was an AM4C community winner.

At best, abandoned buildings pose a visual blight on their neighborhoods. Unoccupied, they detract from the economic and social vitality to their surrounds.  At worst, they abandoned buildings can pose severe safety hazards, criminal and structural. Woodstock Institute research shows that vacate and foreclosed homes contribute to declines in neighboring property values and increases in violent crime.


Savvy owners of  such properties can  exacerbate the toll unoccupied properties exact on the community by asking the County Assessor to lower  property valuations so as to reduce that owners taxes (forcing the rest of us to to  pay more).   The Chicago of Chicago says it spent $15 million last year alone dealing with more than 2300 vacant buildings – most of that to demolish or board them up. Woodstock Institute places that figure at $36 million.

There are however some limitations to the data set used, as the City has only compiled data from January, 2010. The limited pool of information makes it a bit hard to place the data into any sort of historical context. (Is  neighborhood property abandonment  "getting better" or "getting worse." One this is certain - the devastation wreaked by the housing market crash is pretty shocking.  (The site designer's conclusion that there are more such buildings in poorer neighborhoods than in more affluent areas, may not quite as revealing.

It will be interesting to see how recent changes to the City's vacant building registration law effects the data this web site generates. Last July, the  City Council extended  registration and maintenance obligation imposed on property owners to the mortgage lenders that also have interest in empty / unused properties.  (Owners  have been obligated to register and maintain properties that are vacant for more than 30 days since 2008),  The hope is that lenders will take over routine maintenance  when the owner borrowers give up.

Now, owners of six or more properties, including lenders,  must cut grass; shovel snow, board-up entrances, post their contact information on signs in front of these lots, and post security guards at night,  and respond to complaints relating to the building;

Vacant and abandoned buildings can and should be reported to the City by calling 311 or by reporting online.  When the City receives a report an inspector will investigate to determine whether or not the building is secured (or, as necessary, registered) and will issue violation notices to the owner.

More information is also available at the City of Chicago's vacant and abandoned buildings web page