Is it possible for a group of homeowners to file a class action suit against the owner of an apartment building for causing devaluation of their homes?

In our neighborhood there are 11 apartment buildings that are interspersed among historic homes. These buildings are all occupied by low-income, 100% government subsidized residents and they are poorly maintained and have a high crime rate. A very high percentage of all crime in our neighborhood is due to the residents of these buildings and their presence in our historic neighborhood is the main reason for the decline in the value of everyone’s homes. The owner of the buildings does minimal maintenance and these buildings are an eyesore and a nuisance.

Asked on March 12, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Missouri

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

It would be almost, if not entirely, impossible to bring the lawsuit you describe. First, the law generally does not allow suits for  reduction in property values caused by lawful, permitted uses; second, low-income and subsidized housing is regarded (generally) as a social or public good and is encouraged--there are laws protected it, and also the courts are not receptive to attempts to curtail it; third, generally a nuisance suit is only available against uses which are inappropriate for the area, like slaughterhouse, junkyards, concrete plants, etc. in residential areas.

Your better bets are to:

1) Check local municipal code and ordinances--if the buildings appear to be violating any codes (housing, health, etc.), report them to the appropriate authorities.

2) If you believe the buildings are being run badly, contact your state HUD offices--HUD takes their obligations to subsidized housing seriously and may look into mismanagment.

3) Speak with your mayor, municipal counsel, county or state representatives, etc. about the situation--they may be able to put pressure on building management and/or on the police to patrol more aggressively.

4) Consider speaking to local media--news reports about the bad conditions at public housing can exert pressure.

An attorney can help you do these things.


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