Looking for the Silver Insulation
June 22, 2013 6:52 PM   Subscribe

If an absentee homeowner's property is condemned, can I take legal action against them for a loss in value of my own house?

The house directly across from me has been abandoned, winterized by the City of Albuquerque, and now sports some eye-catching Unsafe stickers as well as citations for yard waste. Looks like the place is going to get condemned soon, and the neighborhood property value is going to tank. This is a multi-part question:

1. Can I take legal action against the absentee owners for loss of value? And if so, 2. Is the value of a lawsuit, should it succeed, worth the cost of filing in the first place? Or, 3. Do I take this as the fortunes of being a homeowner?
posted by endotoxin to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's 3.
posted by Sphinx at 8:29 PM on June 22, 2013

If no one has a better suggestion, maybe you should start by calling/contactng the 311 number. Online contact here. they should be able to give you an idea of which city department is responsible.

If that doesn't work, there might be contact information on the notices.

Otherwise, a real estate lawyer can give you a consultation, probably
posted by annsunny at 8:31 PM on June 22, 2013

Another possibility is to see about contacting your city council member. The district map can be found through the 311 link.
posted by annsunny at 8:35 PM on June 22, 2013

You could talk to a lawyer about if you're really serious, but what makes you think the owner of an abandoned house has any assets to go after?

Lousy situation, though. I'm sorry.
posted by alms at 8:47 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by pompomtom at 9:16 PM on June 22, 2013

You could also look at contacting the relevant city department to talk about your options. In some communities, neighbors have been able to (with city permission, homeowner/bank permission, or just with no permission) clean up the yards of abandoned properties and try to keep their neighborhood looking nice. I realize it would be a pain, but it might be worth pulling a few neighbors together and tidying things up, especially if some authority can give you its blessing. Your city councilman's office might also be a good resource.

It might also be worth looking into whether the property has been foreclosed on and is now owned by a bank. If so, pressure from neighbors and the city might force the bank into making its mess look at least a bit neater.
posted by zachlipton at 9:59 PM on June 22, 2013

If it's condemned and razed, I would conversely expect property values to rise. Indeed, this is the purpose, more or less, of condemnation other than immediate threats to public safety.
posted by dhartung at 10:10 PM on June 22, 2013

It's a sucky situation. First I'd try to figure out if the house is still owned by the homeowner or by a bank -- your local Registry of Deeds and Assessor's Office should have these records and usually they're pretty good about helping people. (Note that the assessor's ownership info can be a year or so out of date -- you want to check with the registry to see if a foreclosure has been filed.)

If it is a foreclosure, calling or suing the bank directly probably won't help, because it's a very uneven playing field. (Although one call to the bank might help -- some banks use local property management firms and may want to know if theirs is skipping work. But that's unlikely.)

So if it's owned by a bank, call the city and see if they have any way to put pressure on the banks. Some towns and cities have programs in place to fine banks for leaving foreclosed properties in the sort of shape you describe. (Unfortunately, banks have taken to delaying foreclosure in these situations -- so if it's still the homeowner, you're out of luck, because as noted above, these folks won't have any money.)

If your city doesn't have a program to fine or otherwise bring pressure on banks leaving foreclosures in this kind of shape, and this property is (or soon will be) a foreclosure, you could try asking your local councilman how you could get a local ordinance in place to fine banks for leaving foreclosures in this condition.

tl;dr: A lawsuit is not likely to be productive here, because (a) a homeowner won't have the assets anyway, and (b) if you sue a bank you're not on a level playing field. But the city may have (or be willing to develop) programs to bring pressure on banks, especially if this is a common problem.
posted by pie ninja at 5:59 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

IAL - in many States the basic analysis for a tort claim (and that's what you are talking about) is: Duty, Breach, Causation.
So, if I'm driving a car, I have a duty (imposed by statute) to obey traffic signals. If I drive through a red light I have breached that duty. If I hit your car and knock the bumper off I have caused you cognizable harm. That's a suin'

Here it's hard to conceptualize a duty that the neighboring homeowner has breached. If we think of a general duty to "not impact neighbors negatively" we get quickly onto an amorphous slope the common law doesn't want to tread on. That 'duty' is as inchoate as a duty to 'not sing in public unless you are a good singer' so as to avoid disturbing others. In short, I doubt you could convince a court of a 'duty' here.

Next, I can see a real causation problem. MOST folks whose homes are foreclosed do not have this happen by choice. If neighbor could not pay the mortgage then they did not affirmatively act in a way that could breach a duty.

Back to my intersection analysis. Suppose again that my car goes through the red light and strikes yours, but this time, the REASON I did so is because large truck behind me had its brakes fail and is pushing my car into the intersection despite me mashing on the brakes. I still hit your car but I did not __do__ anything to cause it. No claim against me. (Maybe one against the truck if he should have known his brakes were iffy, etc.)

So, absent proof that the neighbor said "Gosh, I'm sitting on a pile of gold coins but I think I'll choose to stop paying the mortgage and instead just frolic while the home gets foreclosed." THEN you might have proof of causation, but you still have a slim chance of proving a duty.

You could probably prove, on damages, that at this moment your home value is X% or $X below what it would be if the neighboring home wasn't in distress but absent proof that this prevent you from refinancing as you were already in the process of doing, or queered a sale when you were actively marketing the property that decrease in present value is unlikely to be something a Court will consider sufficient damage.

For all we know, by the time you want to sell or refinance, the neighboring house will have been purchased and will have the best yard on the block. Absent proof of tangible, current, irreparable impairment of your economic circumstance due exclusively to this home's depressed condition I don't think you could obtain an award of damages even if you could prove duty and breach.

This is a question I've often pondered in the situations where a bank (and bank most surely is a four letter word) either forecloses or refuses to permit a short sale or refuses to do a modification and ends up owning the property and does a crappy job of maintaining, marketing, etc. THAT is a situation worth looking at but a claim against your economically devastated former neighbor? I have trouble seeing that one as viable even if it were morally palatable to pursue.
posted by BrooksCooper at 8:08 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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