11 Reasons Houses Become Abandoned (+FAQs Answered)

A place to live is a necessity, and most people work hard to afford a house of their own.

Why then are there so many abandoned and empty houses?

why houses abandoned

11 Reasons Why People Abandon Houses in America

The principal reasons why a house gets left empty in America include:

#1 Collapse of Major Employer

If a large company or manufacturer is the primary provider of work in an area, then the loss of that employer significantly impacts the local economy.

Detroit has never recovered from the closure of the car industry.

It directly affects the workers who may need to find a new job in another area in a hurry. It indirectly impacts the businesses that supply the primary employer and its workers.

If there is no work in an area, you have a collapsed housing market resulting in many empty houses.

In time businesses may move into the depressed area, but the impact can last decades.

In severe cases where an industry like mining finishes, you can end up with a ghost town as there is nothing to support the local economy.

#2 Individual Circumstances

The house may stand empty if someone must move for work and cannot sell or rent out their property.

Alternatively, the bank may foreclose on a mortgage, and the homeowner moves out, but the property doesn’t sell.

In the last banking crisis, the banks had lent to too many people who couldn’t afford the borrowing. When the system collapsed, there were no buyers for the properties.

Many abandoned homes date from those times in less affluent areas.

#3 Bad Neighborhood

Reasons for neighborhoods changing from pleasant places to live to less desirable or outright terrifying vary.

When an area deteriorates, those who can move out, it becomes harder for people to sell their properties and for landlords to rent out accommodation.

An abandoned house can act as a magnet for trouble; from that small beginning, a neighborhood can rapidly decline.

#4 Death or Residential Care

An elderly person dying may mean that the house is left empty. Either it is unclear over ownership, or people don’t want to live in the house, but neither do they want to let it go to strangers.

There may be disputes about how to deal with the home, or people may be too busy to deal with the property.

Time passes, and before too long, the house shows signs of wear and tear.

A house may stay empty because the homeowner is in long-term care.

On the one hand, it is desirable to sell the property, but the homeowner may be opposed to the idea, believing that they will return home.

Many families don’t have the authority or the energy to deal with a home while their relative is in long-term care and may leave the property empty until later.

In the meantime, the property looks abandoned.

#5 Developers Project Stock

If you are in the business of redeveloping old houses, you may snap up a bargain or two when houses are cheap.

You may not have the funds or the time to renovate the property, and it sits there looking abandoned while waiting for your attention.

The longer it remains, the more run down it gets.

#6 Demolition by Stealth

Suppose you have a historic property. The property is a money pit, and you prefer to build a new house on the land.

You can’t knock the house down for legal reasons, but you can neglect it and wait to see if someone obligingly burns it down or it falls through lack of maintenance.

After the house is past the point of no return, you get to carry out your plans to build a modern home on the site with no consequences.

#7 Investment Company Holdings

If the rental market is depressed, an investment company may choose to leave its properties empty and not spend money on maintenance.

The land may be worth more than the house in some cases.

While the property remains on the asset register, it gives the investment company a healthy balance sheet. Selling the property may crystalize a loss.

From an accounting stance, the investment company neglects a property rather than trying to sell it because this action is more profitable.

#8 Disaster Aftermath

The properties may be unfit for human habitation following floods, fire, or a pollution incident.

If the homeowner can’t restore the property, the house may stand unloved for a long time.

After an incident like a flood, many homeowners don’t want to return to start again. The risk of future flooding may make it too risky or expensive to maintain the property.

#9 Deportation

In the US, the Government can swoop in and deport thousands of people, leaving their fully furnished homes behind.

These homes technically belong to the Government, but the possessions belong to the homeowner.

These houses can remain abandoned for years while the necessary bureaucracy determines what to do with the property.

#10 Forgotten

It may seem strange that you can lose track of a house, but if there is some distance between you and your relatives and you die without leaving a will, the property may stand empty with no one sure about who owns it.

Relatives may either not know there is a property or have forgotten about the possibility of someone owning the house.

#11 Compulsory Purchase

Ahead of a large infrastructure project, several houses may be subject to a compulsory purchase order. These houses may stay empty while waiting for the project to start.

If the infrastructure project gets canceled or delayed, the homes remain vacant.

It can take years for an infrastructure project to start, and it is more economical to leave the buildings standing until work begins.

Reasons Why People Abandon Houses in Europe

Europeans abandon their houses for the same reasons as Americans.

Some additional reasons may include:

Move to the City

Young people move out of traditional villages and into the cities looking for work.

Without people to fill the traditional houses, you can get ghost villages or places with a mixture of elderly residents and empty homes.

Some enterprising local Mayors offer schemes where these empty houses (with conditions) for a nominal sum of one euro provided you commit to living and working in the village.

These houses often require extensive repairs and renewals, but if you work remotely or want to set up a creative business, these offers are attractive.

Work in Progress

What looks like a run-down, abandoned house may be a new house that someone is building in stages.

All over Europe, you can find houses slowly rising from the ground, and the construction can take years and, in some cases, may never finish.

The approach of building when you can afford it is relatively common in Europe because hard materials like stone and concrete forgive delays.

A part-developed plot may look like a ruin but may sell for more than the bare land if the developer loses interest.

Radiation and Other Hazards

In Ukraine, a whole area of abandoned homes resulted from the Chornobyl nuclear accident.

These houses will remain empty for decades, and the former residents cannot return to collect their belongings.

Other parts of Europe may suffer from catastrophic floods or volcanic eruptions.

The houses may be unsalvageable, and the abandoned houses slowly become part of the landscape.

Investors and Speculators

Across Europe, people with spare capital may buy houses and leave them empty because they typically increase in value.

In Europe, land is relatively scarce and expensive, so many wealthy people see houses as an excellent investment and don’t bother trying to rent them out because they don’t want to pay the maintenance costs.

These houses are capital investment bonds for the owner.


Grant funding for regeneration projects had the perverse effect of creating too many houses for the available demand.

In Ireland, the Government faces demolishing housing estates that no one needs or wants.

The tragic aspect of this situation is that there are abandoned houses in some areas and a chronic shortage of homes in others.

Unfortunately, these houses are not in the right place for working people and their families.

Why Are There Abandoned Houses with Everything Left Inside?

A fully furnished home left empty indicates that the residents left in a hurry and didn’t or could not come back to reclaim their stuff.

Reasons vary but include:

  • Evacuation without return.
  • Deportation or imprisonment.
  • Death or in care.

A compulsory evacuation ahead of flood, fire, or armed conflict doesn’t leave time to pack your belongings into a removal truck.

If the area remains unsafe for you to return to, you lose access to your possessions.

After a few years, you have rebuilt your life somewhere else and don’t need to return for your possessions.

Are Abandoned Houses Free?

It is pretty tempting; you need a home, and this house is sitting there with no one living in it.

Are you free to simply move in and take over the repair and maintenance?

Moving into a home you don’t own is an option and has a whole chunk of law devoted to it – squatter’s rights.

However, that empty house belongs to someone, and if you move in, you will probably find yourself the subject of an eviction order as the actual owner asserts their rights.

Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but abandoned houses are not free.

If you find an abandoned house, it is best to track down the legal owner and obtain a legal title to the property.

Can You Live in Abandoned Houses?

People can and do move into abandoned houses because if you are homeless, a bit of roof over your head is better than sleeping on the streets.

If you are legally moving into an abandoned house, you will have a survey to ensure the place is safe for human habitation. Alternatively, you may camp on-site while you have structural renovations completed.

Abandoned houses are part of the available housing stock, but you may need extensive remodeling to be comfortable.

Are Abandoned Houses Dangerous?

The risk of injury depends on the state of repair.

If the roof is rotting but not yet collapsed, then there is a high risk that parts of the structure may fall on you while exploring. Windows are often the first to go, and broken glass is a hazard.

People may have strip-mined the house leaving the structure unsound.

A house abandoned due to a radiation leak is inherently dangerous for your long-term health, but these are rare.

Mainly, the risks from abandoned houses are falling parts of the structure, rotten floorboards, trip hazards, and vermin taking up residence in the building.

Is It Illegal to Take Things from Abandoned Houses?

The short answer is – yes!

Taking an item without the owner’s permission is theft.

If you spot some charming architectural features that you feel you need to save, track down the owner and ask for salvage permission.

Depending on your morals, you can remove whatever you can carry, but if caught, it is a criminal, not a civil offense in most places.

How to Find Abandoned Houses?

You can find an abandoned house by exploring the neighborhood, asking a realtor, or getting hold of the Local Government.

You can also check the relevant land registry documents to find the owner. There is no database listing all abandoned properties, so you need to do some detective work.

If you want to find an overlooked, hidden gem, your best approach is to walk up and down the roads and ask local people (like the mailman) about properties in the area.

How to Buy Abandoned Homes?

Buying an abandoned home is the same as any other property transaction – first, find the owner and open negotiations.

You may find it easier to get a lawyer involved from the beginning so they can check if there are any legal issues or restrictions.

Before you start negotiating, you may want to pay a surveyor to give you an assessment of potential renovation costs.

You will need the owner’s permission for access, so always start by locating the owner.

Depending on the state of the house, you may need specialist financing rather than a standard mortgage.

How Much Do Abandoned Homes Cost?

The cost of an abandoned home depends on:

  • Your negotiation skills.
  • Land prices.
  • Location.
  • Competition.
  • State of repair.

In some areas, you may get the entire property for less than a thousand dollars; in others, a dilapidated ruin will cost you considerably more because of limited land availability or a beautiful sea view.

Claiming or Buying an Abandoned House

If you track down the owner of an abandoned house, you can negotiate and buy in the standard way.

If the house appears unclaimed or the ownership is unclear, your first port of call is the county clerk or a lawyer.

Recently there has been an increase in people trying to establish ownership through squatting.

You need to check your state rules because you must occupy the property for several years to put in the adverse possession claim against the legal owner.

The occupation rate may be as little as three years or up to thirty.

If you squat, you live with uncertainty and need to be resilient as you may spend your money renovating and living in a property for a decade and face eviction with no compensation for your hard work.


There are plenty of misleading statistics about the level of empty homes in the US, UK, and Europe.

However, all sources agree that many empty homes are not necessarily abandoned but vacant.

If you don’t mind taking on a project and want a low-cost entry onto the housing market, an abandoned house may be ideal.