Fallout from the foreclosure crisis is forcing neighbors and local officials to research who is legally responsible for mowing the lawn, cleaning the swimming pool, etc.
"It's a huge issue for us. It's more complicated than it might seem outwardly," said Elisabeth Shurtleff, public information officer with the Nevada Department of Business & Industry. Nevada had the nation's highest state foreclosure rate in April, 3.6 times the national average of one in every 519 households, according to RealtyTrac Inc. in Irvine, Calif., which compiles monthly foreclosure data. "It's definitely a problem finding out who would be responsible and what the statutes provide for that responsibility. It's quite complex, especially the way financing has evolved over the years," Shurtleff said.
Vacant homes also become health and public safety concerns, said Peter Kristian, president of Community Associations Institute in Alexandria, Va., and also general manager of Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners' Association in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Standing water in swimming pools, the danger of houses being stripped for materials, like copper piping and aluminum siding, and invasion by vermin are issues faced by communities.
Often, the first responders are concerned neighbors, who haul their lawn mowers next door. But that carries risk. Being a good neighbor is also, legally, trespassing, said Donald Isken, a real estate lawyer in Wilmington, Del.
"I always tell people, if you can avoid the self-help remedy, then you can reduce your exposure to personal liability for property damage," Isken said.
In some cases, homeowners' associations have the authority to do the remedial work necessary, said Isken. But the process to allow the association on the property takes time, "so the neighbors have to live with an eyesore," Isken said.
There are threats that the good Samaritans that are trying to keep up the property and the neighborhood may be therefor held responsible for property damage. Such a lose-lose situation for the neighbors. The time, effort, and expenses involved tracking down the legal owner of the foreclosed properties are another hit against the neighborhood.