What Happens to a Condemned House in Chicago?

What Happens to a Condemned House in Chicago?

A house in Chicago is condemned when the city determines that it is no longer fit to inhabit. Usually, this happens because of an ongoing pattern of unsafe housing code violations.

No one may live in a condemned building or use it until the owner has proven that the cited problems have been fixed. As long as the problems go uncorrected, the occupants can no longer live there.

In some cases, condemned houses may be demolished. In Chicago, after a city-owned condemned house is torn down, the vacant lot left behind may be eligible for the city’s “Large Lot” program, which sells lots to the public for one dollar.

Why Is a House Condemned?

Back in 2016, the city of Chicago received nearly 6,000 complaints about abandoned buildings, but only a small number of those were condemned. Members of the public can find information and report vacant houses on the City of Chicago website (chicago.gov).

A house could be condemned for any number of reasons:

  • The building has been vacant and boarded up for a period of time, often more than 60 days.
  • Utilities have been discontinued.
  • An inspector cites specific hazards that render the building unsafe to live in.
  • The building is considered dilapidated, meaning that there are no specific hazards, but the inspector has qualified it for condemnation.

A house can also be condemned because of a housing hygiene problem.

How to Fix a Condemned Status

Reversing a condemned status starts with negotiating a rehabilitation or repair agreement with the building authority.

After making the repairs and going through a code compliance process, which usually involves a complete inspection of the entire building, the house may be ruled livable again.

What Are the Code Requirements for Housing?

Although the specific code requirements vary, in general, a livable house must provide:

  • plumbing
  • hot water
  • ventilation
  • heat
  • light fixtures
  • safe electrical outlets

The owner (and tenants, if the property is rented) also have a responsibility to keep the dwelling clean, pest-free, and in good structural condition.

Even Perfectly Good Houses Can Be Condemned

A house can also be condemned when it is situated in a location designated for public use or construction.

By law, public authorities may exercise the power of eminent domain, which allows the government to seize private land based on the location of the property, not its condition.

In this case, residential homes can be condemned – and marked for demolition or modification – to make way for public projects such as a highway, park, airport, public facility, or a private project that will serve the public good.

In order to acquire a property, the City of Chicago needs either an agreement from the owner or a court order. Certain government entities, such as the state of Illinois, may attempt a “quick take” hearing. This expedited hearing is scheduled as soon as the assigned judge has an opening, which could occur within a few weeks of filing. For this reason, the property owner should consult legal counsel as soon as possible.

Compensation for Condemned Houses

In the case of eminent domain, the housing authority will usually make every reasonable effort to reach an agreement with the property owner.

Because the owner must be fairly compensated for the loss of the property, the government will make a written offer of payment based on the appraised value of the seized property. This is called a pro-tanto award.

If you’ve been offered a pro-tanto award that you feel is insufficient, you can decline the payment and submit your own appraisal for the property.

In this case, it’s important to seek legal counsel promptly, because you may face a deadline to submit your appraisal for the property.

What Happens When a House Is Condemned?

Except in cases of eminent domain, condemning a home is usually the last resort taken only when all other efforts have failed to improve the condition of the building.

When a home is condemned, the owner (and tenants, if any) are notified in writing that the building must be vacated.

A sign is attached to the building stating that the dwelling is not fit for human habitation and that it cannot be occupied.

In some areas, a condemned property may be winterized to protect against damage caused by frozen water pipes or improperly maintained utilities.

The government may disconnect the gas, shut off the electric power, and drain plumbing fixtures and water pipes.

The owner of the building may be ordered to repair or demolish the building.

If you own a house that has been condemned, it’s important to respond to any complaints promptly, and seek legal advice about the best course of action to take next.

*Updated June 2020

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