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My Neighbor Died. Now Her Empty House Is Breeding Rats. What Can I Do?

Q: My family lives in a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Our next-door neighbor passed away in July 2021 and didn’t leave a will. Her niece and nephew claim to be the inheritors of the house, though they are saying it’s still in court. Last December, a pipe burst of their house and each our homes flooded. Our insurance covered the repairs in our home, however the neighbor’s house is now stuffed with wet junk, and the stench is awful. Also, we now have a rat problem that an exterminator says is coming from the neighbor’s backyard. What recourse do we have now here?

A: Vacant houses that fall into disrepair since the owner dies and the title hasn’t been transferred to a recent owner could be a big neighborhood problem. But you don’t have to wait for the courts to act before you may ask for help.

Your situation potentially involves several city agencies. You can start by filing a grievance through 311 in order that the right agencies are alerted and inspectors can go to the scene. The city will act on an anonymous grievance, but if you happen to include your contact information, the agencies should call you and even schedule a visit to learn the main points of that grievance, said Ryan J. Degan, deputy press secretary of the Department of Buildings.

Depending on the conditions witnessed by the inspectors, town could take enforcement actions — though it might take longer on this case because there’s some ambiguity about who owns the home round the corner.

The city’s Department of Sanitation can clean the surface of a vacant house provided that the rubbish is accessible from the sidewalk or the road. But first, the department has to follow a legal process that features attempts to contact the owners to tell them about violations. If the department can clean it up, the owner is billed for the service, said Vincent Gragnani, the D.S.N.Y. press secretary.

You may write a letter to the court handling the estate — though this may occasionally require hiring a lawyer — letting the judge know that the property has grow to be a public nuisance within the time because the owner’s death. The court may give you the chance to maneuver the case along, or help treatment the situation, said Joseph Schilling, an authority on vacant properties with the Urban Institute.

Mr. Schilling called this “a classic legal case of a property that’s causing a public nuisance,” and really helpful alerting each town and the court: “All of those avenues, I’d probably pursue them on parallel tracks.”

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