What is the Difference Between a Vacant House and an Abandoned House?

abandoned house
A Typical Abandoned House


In the recent past, there has been a drastic rise in the number of abandoned and vacant houses in the United States. This is on account of the recent macroeconomic and demographic shift trends still being witnessed today. These trends include migrations from urban to rural, deindustrialization, reduction in the number of urban middle class, inadequate cash flows, outstanding property liens and uncertainties in the legal and financial sectors.


These triggers end up extending the period in which a house remains vacant or abandoned. They also result in property relegation to permanent disuse, consequently causing disinvestment in some of the regions. These factors are also able to obscure property titles making it difficult for interested new owners to buy and make improvements on the property.


However, as we discuss the possible causes and resultant effects of vacant and abandoned homes in the US, it is critical that you understand the terms used here; Vacancy and Abandonment. Many times we tend to use these two terms interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between them.


An abandoned house

An abandoned house is a home whose owner has intentionally relinquished all ownership rights and control over it. This means that over time there will be no visible or a defined owner that can be easily contacted about the house. This means that the last person to stay in the house leaves either without a word about returning to it or leaves and confirms that they have no more interest in the property.


Abandoned houses are normally left under no one’s care and with time their state will start deteriorating. This is because they are not attended to. Since an abandoned house is literally left with no clear owner, under the law a person who finds such property and develops an interest in it can claim ownership. This however, has to be done by the provisions of law.


A vacant house

A vacant house, on the other hand, is one that has no physical human tenancy. This means that the house is left with no occupants over time, but the owner still exists with a right of claim to its ownership. This means that as much as the house is left empty, the owner still has expressed interest in the property.


A house could be vacant if it is in the transition period. This simply means that it could be left empty when there is an ongoing process to change ownership. Houses could be vacant as a result of job relocation, the death of the occupant, marriage relocation of even due foreclosure by a bank when owner defaults in the mortgage payment.



A vacant house can be easily sold or have its ownership transferred to another party. This is because there is a known owner with clear reasons as to why they vacated the house. This, however, is not the case with an abandoned house. This is because an abandoned house has no known owner interested in it. It is, therefore, important o understand the difference between these two common terms and put them into consideration every time you want to purchase a house.

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