Skip to content

Empty foreclosed properties in US pose danger in hurricane season

They are pointing out that unoccupied real estate will be defenceless in a storm as no one will put up shutters, batten down garage doors and otherwise secure the property.

Other properties will be at risk from flying debris and it is not clear if special hurricane insurance will be honoured in such circumstances, they say.

'I am worried a lot of places will get destroyed,' said Mike Manikchand whose home is surrounded by half a dozen empty, foreclosed homes in Lehigh Acres, Lee County, south west Florida. It is one of the worst affected counties in the US in terms of foreclosure.

If these properties are damaged by storms their value will fall even further, real estate professionals point out.

Hurricanes could make hazards of thousands of foreclosed houses, and their diminished value could decrease even more, according to Julie Rochman, president of the Tampa-based Institute for Business and Home Safety.

She is urging all property owners to spend a little bit of time and money to secure the properties to withstand wind and water or risk their homes becoming damaged and valued at even less.

If the owners of foreclosed properties have fled or they are now in the hands of the lenders it is not clear who will undertake such essential duties. It has been suggested that banks and other lenders should hire property management companies to do the job.

Other possibilities are real estate agents, housing associations or even neighbours, especially those like Manikchand who want to protect their own properties from debris.

There is no official line. 'Our number one concern is life safety. Securing property is not an aspect we deal with,' said a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

It is somewhat ironic that many of the areas that are vulnerable to hurricanes are regions that have been hardest hit by foreclosures. These include Florida and coastal counties in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

According to lawyers it is the legal owner who is responsible for securing property. But those living next to foreclosed properties point out that lenders rarely even mow lawns or carry out necessary repairs to empty property never mind shore them up in the face of an approaching hurricane.

Also properties can be in a limbo if the lender hasn't taken title and others, even homeowners associations could be guilty of trespass if they do anything.