What is Vacant Property?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Vacant property is real estate not currently in use, including empty lots as well as structures. Municipal codes may have a specific section covering vacant property and differentiating between vacancy and abandonment. Properties can be vacant for a variety of reasons ranging from seasonal vacancies in vacation homes to deliberate abandonment of a property with no intent to find new tenants or make improvements. Most regions keep statistics on vacancies for the purpose of tracking land use and related activities.

A vacant property can be attached to utilities and may have structures in varying states of repair. A property can be a public safety hazard if maintenance is not regular. Some potential safety risks include high shrubs and grasses, posing a fire hazard, along with structural defects. People may enter structures and experience injuries from toxins, exposed electrical wiring, building collapses, and so forth. If the owner does not maintain insurance, pay property taxes, and perform basic maintenance, the property may be considered abandoned under the law.


When property is vacant, there are a number of safety and security concerns. As long as the property has occupants, squatters, thieves, and others are less likely to attempt to enter the site. Having high occupancy rates can reduce crime and make communities safer and more pleasant. There's also a high risk of structure fires and other problems on vacant property, and people may not be as prompt with maintenance. Occupants can also assist with maintenance, keeping structures clean and ventilated to reduce mold, mildew, and other problems.

Periodic vacancy can be common with apartments, vacation homes, and other properties where turnover with occupants is high. In periods of prolonged vacancy, people may need to take some steps to protect their property, such as securely wrapping pipes to prevent freezing, closing storm shutters to protect windows, and so forth. Insurance companies may offer special policies for off season or periods when property will be vacant to allow people to perform repairs and extensive maintenance like painting.

In some regions where derelict vacant property is a problem, community organizations may attempt to reclaim such property with the goal of refurbishing it and finding new occupants. One technique people may use is adverse possession, where people occupy and make repairs to a property so they can lay claim to the title. People can also attempt to buy abandoned property at mortgage and tax auctions, where lienholders sell property to recover debt.


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