Ask the Architect

The scary house down the block


Q. There is a house in my neighborhood, just a few doors away, that has never been taken care of. I know someone lives there, but they don’t seem to care about how their home looks, and I wonder: Is there a way to get the community together, tear the house down and turn it into a park? It would look a lot better.

A. The house you’re referring to seems to be like one in almost every neighborhood, but I haven’t seen any single-lot parks popping up anywhere. Maybe the reason it doesn’t happen is because you can’t just seize someone’s property. If that were the case, what would stop your neighbors from taking your property?
Every once in a while, when I’m sitting in a public zoning hearing, someone appears and makes a statement at the microphone just like what you are suggesting. I think they, too, are expecting a light bulb to appear above everyone else’s head when they suddenly realize what a genuinely great idea that was. But instead of trying to condemn someone else’s property, it may be better to gain some idea about what is really going on. I have often had to do this in the course of exploring options for potential buyers.
In some cases, such as a shopping center that continued to lose and not replace businesses, the owner lived a thousand miles away, and was just using the property as a tax write-off while they waited for the market to change and just sell. The condition had already existed for over a decade before someone asked me to look into the conditions and search the records. The property did improve after violations were issued that forced the owner to respond in court. The same may be the course of action for the property you are describing.
Some people are only compelled by legal action, while others will respond to a warning. I have seen many instances in which the owner is just financially, physically or mentally incapable of responding in the way you want them to. I have even driven people in these circumstances to meetings with authorities, especially when New York Rising had funding available to help them. None of the individuals, even with financial assistance, followed through, either from distrust of authorities or a realization that they might have to pay money they just did not have or they could not deal with the change in their lives.
If you are inclined to look further into the circumstances of the owner, you may learn the reason(s) for the conditions being what they are. In a free country (so far), you may not like how your neighbors live, but we still don’t have the control to just take their property. Your recourse is to try to understand why the property is this way, and help, if you can, report them to authorities and become the “squeaky wheel,” or take your own personal legal action. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.