Q: We are getting ready to sell, but the property next door is a junkyard with wrecked cars and trash of all kinds. The county has come out, but nothing much gets done. Do we have any options here? –Teresa P.
A: How frustrating! First, know that you are not overestimating how important the neighboring property’s appearance can be to the sale of your home. This is more true now than it ever has been, as today’s buyers often view listings on satellite maps and applications like Google Maps’ Street Views, which allows them to basically "drive" up and down the street from homes they plan to go see and rule them out on the basis of neighboring homes, before they ever get in the car.
Second, also be aware that you may not be able to fully remedy the situation. You didn’t mention what the ownership status of the property is, meaning whether someone actively owns it and lives there in that state, or whether the property is bank-owned or otherwise abandoned. And you did mention that the property is located in a county jurisdiction, implying that it’s outside of city limits — the fact may be that the owners are within their rights to have abandoned/junk vehicles on their property, and that there’s not much you can do about it.
As I see it, here are the two major options you have:
1. Be the squeaky wheel with your local government. Basically, keep calling them. And be compelling — if the place is a health hazard, or you see kids playing on the wrecked cars or vermin scurrying about, say so.
Don’t allow them to think this is just an issue of you wanting to get rid of an eyesore.
Studies have shown that blighted properties like this create a habitat for crime and health hazards. So, get very explicit about all the hazards this property’s condition is creating AND about what precisely must be done to remedy it, from issuing citations to the owner to a list of cleanup tasks the county can do, like removing cars or debris.
Write and call your county office that has come out before, but also the county public health office, sheriff and any other agency that seems relevant — including your county commissioner or other elected official. Beware: You will get turned down and passed on before you get listened to. But if you’re willing to make the investment in being the squeaky wheel, you might also, eventually, get some grease.
2. Offer to help the owners. It might actually be in your best interests to offer to help the owners have the place cleaned up, either engaging a salvage company that can junk the cars and paying for the place to be cleaned and landscaped or enlisting help from neighbors to do the work yourselves. (Chances are good you’re not the only one who is distressed by the state of the place.)
With abandoned or foreclosed properties, I’ve seen desperate neighbors simply take things into their own hands, go in there and clean the place up; I can’t advise you to do this, as it is not your property, and you could potentially have a real problem if you or someone else were injured during the course of the cleanup.
However, if the property has an active or present owner, you’ll want to be even more careful about trespassing on it or going there to clean it up yourself or with your neighbors. Often, these sorts of situations arise where the property owner is elderly and afraid, emotionally disturbed or is simply on the defense after years of neighborly scorn for the state of the property.
Take some cookies, knock softly and be very kind if and when you approach a neighbor to offer this sort of help. If you find a salvage yard that will tow the cars and pay the owners for the metal, tell the owners so. Get creative about how you can turn this into a win-win situation, but be safe if and when you actually approach them. They might reject your advances, but they might also see it as the chance they’ve been waiting for to finally get their property and their life under control.