Volume 74, Number 4

October 1999

Hanging Out the No Vacancy Sign: Eliminating the Blight of Vacant Buildings from Urban Areas

David T. Kraut

Despite recent aggressive efforts to revitalize distressed urban communities, city governments have been unable to find an effective solution for the problem of vacant buildings. Such properties adversely affect the surrounding community, increasing crime and the risk of fire while posing health hazards to nearby residents. Because many owners continue to pay taxes on vacant buildings with the speculative hope of future profit from sale or condemnation, city governments have a particularly difficult time seizing the properties without paying exorbitant amounts of just compensation. In this Note, David Kraut suggests a new way for city governments to eliminate these properties. First, Kraut argues that municipal governments should have the power they currently lack to seize vacant buildings with a substantial number of local housing code violations or that have been vacant for a significant amount of time. Kraut then suggests lowering the amount of just compensation paid for these buildings by discounting the property based on how much it would cost to bring the property up to code standards. He concludes by discussing some of the potential constitutional issues that could be raised by disgruntled property owners.