Ghost Houses Fact or Fiction?   

halloween night with pumpkin in grass tree bat and hunting house in background

You may be thinking haunted houses, but these “ghost houses” are unfortunately real.  We’ve all seen them — vacant homes which have fallen into a state of disrepair, sometimes minor and sometimes a spook-tacular mess!  As a Realtor, I spend countless hours in neighborhoods in Metro Denver and frequently come across these Ghost Houses. People often ask me about them – why and what can be done. Here are just a few of the reasons this can happen.

  • Reverse Mortgage. An aging parent got a reverse mortgage and when they passed, there was no equity in the home so when the family member inherited the home, they had no incentive to maintain the home during the probate and sale process. It became someone else’s problem. I know of one home where it took the owner of the reverse mortgage years to put the home on the market.
  • Spite. The most interesting story that I have come across is a hotel in Ouray, Colorado called the Beaumont. The family got into a dispute with the city and so boarded up the hotel and it sat for decades falling apart until the city foreclosed on the heir of the hotel and sold it to a family who had vacationed in Ouray and they restored it and reopened it. It’s a place to visit for sure! It’s beautiful!
  • Taxes and Liens. If an owner has financial difficulties and accumulates tax and other liens, it can take a long time, sometimes years for the courts to finally order the sale of a home. Meanwhile, it falls into a state of disrepair.
  • Out of state ownership. There are many out of state owners that are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and for whatever reason, don’t either maintain, rent or sell the home.

Regardless of the circumstances leading up to the vacancy, every vacant house has the potential for big problems. Vacant houses suffer – which can be counter-intuitive for a lot people. Hey – it’s empty so it’s not getting wear and tear, right? Sure, the floors aren’t being walked on and the HVAC isn’t in use – but a vacant house suffers from neglect. The potential for problems is immense and goes far beyond the grass getting tall and the leaves piling up. Plumbing problems can arise, damage from storms, rodents and vandalism can wreak havoc on a vacant house. Most homeowners are unaware that their vacant house is not insured as they might think. “But, I have homeowner’s insurance,” says the homeowner when filing a claim. A careful review of the policy will reveal that homeowner’s insurance requires that the home is occupied. For long term vacant homes, the owner is required to have a “builder’s risk” policy that covers all the bases for an empty property.

If you have a Ghost house on your block, and it seems abandoned, has broken windows, overgrown weeds, etc, call 311. The City and County of Denver requires properties to be safe and well-maintained. Each property owner is responsible for the care and maintenance of his/her property.

Generally, a neglected and derelict building is an unoccupied building that city inspectors have identified as unsafe, a nuisance, habitually in violation of city codes or at least one year behind in property taxes (for full details, see DRMC 10-138). These properties cause safety and quality-of-life problems for neighborhoods.

Ann Spoor
Membership Chair