After publicizing a property owner’s name, address, or a property’s address, some owners quickly fix the dilapidated nature of the property to avoid embarrassment. Publicizing a property owner’s name or a property’s address can be accomplished through online postings to social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat); city or county web pages; ads in local newspapers; ads on community television and radio stations; large, brightly colored signs physically placed on the property; or a “Wall of Shame” bulletin board in a public place such as City Hall or the County Courthouse.
Use of social media has the potential to reach a great number of people quickly. As of 2011, 63% of West Virginians had access to some form of internet. 1 US Census data shows that 71% of persons with internet access use Facebook. 2
- No or little cost
- Installation is quick for physical signs
- Online postings are immediate
- Puts other property owners on notice that the local government will take action
- Internet posts may require outside technical assistance for website creation, updating, and maintenance
- Placement of physical signs could lead to direct confrontations with property owners
- Signs can be vandalized or removed and are ineffective for buildings in low-traffic areas
“Wall of Shame”
The Wall of Shame is another tool used to publicize problem properties. These displays often include pictures of the properties the community has chosen to highlight along with the owner’s name, address, and phone number. Example titles include “Wall of Shame,” “Hall of Shame,” and “Problem Properties.” The “Wall” can look very similar whether it is a bulletin board, newsletter, newspaper ad, or online posting. Many communities also include information about the number of fines or types of violations.
Language from the City of Auburn, Washington’s Wall of Shame website:
The City of Auburn takes the issue of abandoned properties very seriously. Below is a list of mortgage holder-owned abandoned properties. City code compliance staff work every day to address the impacts of these properties on other properties and neighborhoods, however, in many instances, the mortgage holders are out of state financial institutions who are slow to respond or have hired property preservation companies who are not consistent in their maintenance activities.
Citizens who have concerns about abandoned properties and want to help the City get action on them can access information below about the mortgage holders. Citizens are encouraged to write, phone or email the mortgage holders or property preservation contacts and request action be taken on one or more abandoned properties. These efforts may help convince the mortgage holders and property preservation companies to act more quickly and consistently.
Please note that the information provided is the most current and available to the City. From time to time, the City may update information and may add or delete properties. For more information on a specific property, to report an abandoned property in your neighborhood, or to learn more about the City’s code compliance efforts, please contact the City of Auburn Permit Center at 253-931-3020 or by email. 3
Usage in West Virginia
Regardless of size, any community can implement a public shaming program. No legal barriers exist to the implementation of a public shaming program.
A community should establish rules or guidelines to determine which properties will be highlighted and how public shaming will be used. Guidelines should include factors for community leaders to consider such as:
—Does the property violate the building code?
—Is the owner delinquent in paying sewer or water bills?
—Has the property been declared a nuisance?
—Has the owner been warned of violations in the past?
—Is there a history of complaints from neighbors?
—Does the property present health or safety issues?
—Has the property been the site of criminal activity?
—Is the property a fire hazard?
—Is the property owner living on the property?
—Is the property a commercial property that an absentee landowner has chosen to allow to deteriorate for financial reasons?
—Is the owner having financial problems that prevent compliance with community standards?
A community could choose some or all of these factors, or even develop its own.
Costs will vary with the method that communities choose to use. Newspaper ads vary in cost depending on the size of the ad. Expect to pay extra for color. Although social media is free, websites require regular updating by someone who is familiar with social media. The cost of Notice of Violations signs is minimal. As mentioned below, Fayette County spends only $8.50 per sign.
Community Highlight: Fayette County
In Fayette County, the Building Department will place a Notice of Violation sign on problem properties. The Notice of Violation sign includes the property owner’s name and the property’s address, and states that the building is in violation of the Fayette County Dilapidated Building and Beautification Ordinance. The Building Department also sends a letter to the landowner. These measures are taken only after the building has been designated dilapidated by the County’s Beautification Committee. Fayette County uses a local company to print its signs at a cost of $8.50 per sign, which includes the cost of stakes.
The signs should be placed on a highly visible portion of the property where they are likely to be seen by the greatest number of people.
Most people don’t want others to know they own a run down, old building. Many property owners respond and make necessary changes once we place the sign on their property.
—Angela Gerald, Abandoned Buildings Coordinator, Fayette County, West Virginia
- Paul Miller, Broadband Access Lacking in West Virginia, W. Va. Ctr. on Budget and Policy, http://www.wvpolicy.org/downloads/Broadband102411.pdf (last visited May 7, 2015).
- Thiago Guirmaraes, 7 Statistics about Facebook Users Reveaul Why It’s Such a Powerful Marketing Platform, Bus. Insider (Dec. 3, 2014, 3:15 PM), http://www.businessinsider. com/a-primer-on-facebook-user-statistics-2104-9.
- Wall of Shame – Mortgage Holders of Abandoned Properties, City of Auburn, Wash., http://www.auburnwa.gov/asp/abandons/.