How to get a house condemned
The exact steps that you must take to have a house condemned and demolished vary significantly by jurisdiction, meaning the town, city, county and state where you live. But in general, there are several steps that you will need to take to get the ball rolling once you have discovered a house in your neighbourhood that you believe poses such a safety or health risk that it should be removed for the benefit of the community.
Observe the property and make a note of the address. Make a list of all the potential health and safety violations that you see from the sidewalk. (For your own safety, it is better if you do not enter the property or the building.) Specifically, does the house appear to be safe, sanitary and fit for someone to live in it, as required by most building codes? Is anyone living in the house? Does it appear that the utilities are turned on? Are there visible signs of damage to the structure? For instance, is the foundation cracked or has the roof caved in? Are there trash and tall weeds in the yard? Are there signs of rodents or other pests inhabiting the property?
Check the government pages of your local phone directory or the website of your town, city, or county (if you live in an unincorporated area) for the phone number of the building official for your community. In Charleston, West Virginia, for instance, the office is called the Building Commission, according to the city's website. The city of Cleveland's website says its office is called the Code Enforcement Division of the Building and Housing Department.
Call the office and outline your concerns about the property; ask that a building inspector come out to inspect the property. Make sure the inspector has the correct address. Many cities and towns have posted their building codes and ordinances online. You may want to look up the specifics for your community so that you will know whether your particular situation warrants immediate attention and how best to state your complaint to get quick action.
Follow up. Call and check on the status of your complaint, the inspection and any legal proceedings regarding the property. Even if the inspector finds significant health and safety issues with the building, its removal is not a sure thing---or something that will happen quickly in most cases. The building official may issue a citation or other notice alerting the owner to the problems. The owner then will have time to respond to the notice or citation and to address the problems. If the owner does not respond in a timely manner, the local government may begin legal proceedings to condemn the building, which may eventually lead to it being demolished. This can be a lengthy and time-consuming process.
Attend any hearings or other proceedings on the matter and testify about the condition of the property and its negative effects on the neighbourhood, if given the opportunity.
- Be persistent. Enlist the aid and support of your neighbours. It is possible to have substandard houses demolished, but it may take considerable time and effort. Or the property owner may choose to improve the house and bring it up to the standards outlined in your city's building codes, which also resolves the health and safety problems and improves your neighbourhood. Either way, you and your community win.
- While it might be tempting to take a closer look at the house to strengthen your complaint, be careful not to trespass on private property or do anything to endanger your own health or safety. Let the building officials do their jobs and conduct the inspections of the property.