Halted construction sites are not just nuisances to the cash-strapped developers of the properties, but they cause problems to surrounding neighborhoods as well. Complaints of scattered steel pipes, broken glass, and crumbling sheet rock seem to be rampant in overbuilt areas such as Florida. And residents are reportedly irate due to the safety and environmental hazards that these unfinished properties cause.
“There is no doubt that these unfinished sites are a disturbance to the community. Abandoned properties bring squatters and vandals, not to mention kids playing in these unguarded zones," says Jack McCabe, a real estate analyst and CEO of Deerfield, Fla.-based McCabe Research and Consulting. "Developers are complaining of stolen copper tubing and Jacuzzis. It’s a lot of damage.”
As more and more construction halts, reports of neighbors demanding local authorities to barricade these sites have increased. Some residents cite environmental hazards such as construction debris and the corrosion of potentially hazardous Chinese drywall. Others claim the leftover construction materials can cause harm to children who play in these unprotected properties.
Orlando, Fla., police Sgt. Barbara Jones says reports of burglary and vandalism in residential areas have increased between January and June of this year as compared to last year during that time. “Although crime has generally decreased in the area, we saw a 0.5 percent increase in burglary and vandalism on residential properties. This includes vacant properties,” she says.
McCabe is one Florida resident who has reported some of these incidents. “There is junk lying all over the place. I have seen squatters occupying these properties as if they were their own homes. Local organizations have even started to help the homeless move into these foreclosed or vacant properties. They know it’s illegal, but they are doing it anyway,” he states.
Jones adds the Orlando Police Department has provided additional patrol units to these areas to observe late-night activity. “We know it’s a concern for residents, so we are addressing the issue.”
While police departments try to handle the increasing number of complaints about vacant, halted properties, health departments must deal with the presence of potentially contaminated Chinese drywall. Some brands of Chinese drywall, which are known to corrode copper and metal surfaces as well as emit corrosive gases, have been found throughout abandoned sites in the country. Residents in areas such as Florida, California, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., claim the tainted drywall can cause various health problems.
“We have not found any evidence that Chinese drywall has a detrimental effect on surrounding neighbors, nor have we found any specific hazards associated with the substance. However, we must take every precaution necessary. There is always the risk of children playing or homeless people living in these properties,” says Susan Smith, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health.
Smith adds that there have been more than 500 complaints filed regarding Chinese drywall between February and June in Florida. “There are so many coming in from different counties. We are trying our best to address their concerns,” Smith says.
Until the local authorities are able to address these issues, residents’ concerns will continue to remain. “The authorities are going to have to do something about this. People don’t want to live in areas with these kinds of issues,” McCabe asserts.