Abandoned New Orleans House Falls on Neighbor's Home

The collapse of an abandoned house next door onto her home has left a New Orleans mother concerned about the safety of her children and damage to her property. But after being notified of the situation two weeks ago, complained the woman, city officials still hadn't acted to clean up the mess or reduce the threat.

"Kids can't play with this right here, because they'll still get hurt with the nails and all that stuff hanging out," Keyana Maxwell told New Orleans TV station WWL, which investigated her claims about the wreckage next door. Maxwell said that she'd contacted city officials, urging them to remove the collapsed home so that her kids can play in their backyard of their townhouse, and sleep in their bedrooms again without fear of debris crashing in.

As WWL was interviewing Maxwell, however, a utility crew arrived to mark locations where electrical lines exist on the adjacent property -- so that a demolition crew could avoid them when tearing down what remains of the home.

While Maxwell told the station that she expected a more rapid response, in many cases city officials have to first assess a situation to determine the best cause of action. And even though it might not be apparent, action might be taking place -- in terms of moving paperwork at least.

In Asheville, N.C., neighbors were likewise concerned about an abandoned and sinking home that slid down a hill this month after a landslide, threatening their homes. They didn't think government officials there weren't moving fast enough, reported the Citizen-Times newspaper. But county emergency officials and engineers told residents they did not want to trigger movement that might upset the soil and cause the home to slide. As a result during this evaluation period there was not even removal of a tree that had fallen, blocking road access for the neighbors to get to their homes -- they could only enter the street by foot.

"[The home is] still actively moving," the Asheville paper reported engineer Marvin Mercer as having told a group of about 50 residents. "The house is creaking and moaning. It's not stable whatsoever."

But on Tuesday in South Philadelphia, city officials demolished the back of a long vacant and deteriorating house that collapsed the previous night, reported local TV station WPVI. The city had earlier sealed up the front of the house, vacant for 15 years, but not the back because it had been deemed too dangerous even for officials to approach.

"We've had issues with this [house] since the early 90's -- '91, '92," said block captain Moses Cotton. When asked what the city had done about it in the meantime, Cotton told the Philadelphia TV station, "Zero. Nothing."

But there's a lot of expense and legal red tape involved in government seizing a home. Philadelphia had simply been fining the owner; now added to his bill will be the $14,000 that taxpayers will pay to have the home demolished.

If a home near you seems on the verge of collapse, or has fallen onto your own property, don't attempt any clean-up yourself until government officials have given you the go-ahead. Issues of concern are:

1. Personal safety. There is danger of additional falling debris. Sure, it could further damage your home, but your personal safety is more important. Don't even go stand next to the aftermath to take photos. If you must have a keepsake for yourself or an image to submit to your favorite online news organization, use a zoom lens standing quite far away from the property itself.

2. Compromised soil. As in the case out of Asheville, the soil could be compromised and any additional movement, such as pulling out an axe or a power saw to hack away at wood planks that fell onto your deck, could only upset the balance.

3. Electrocution. Live electrical wires could be exposed and you could end up dead or severely injured.

4. Trespassing on private property. The city and county officials, in most cases, have a protocol that they need to follow before demolishing a home, and that includes obtaining documentation that allows them to be on the premises. You should keep that in mind. It would be trespassing and probably a destruction of private property if you were to take matters into your own hands

5. Having proper homeowners insurance. As for damage to your own property, you should call your insurance company to ask for advice and check on the coverage of your homeowner's policy. Does it say it will cover you if a neighbor's house collapses and damages your property? If the damage came from natural causes, it's likely the insurance will not cover it unless you had special coverage for a payout when there's a natural disaster.