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Why would someone let a house sit empty for decades?


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Help me out here please! DH and I are scratching our heads about this situation.

We live in a lower middle class neighborhood. The houses were built in the early 70's and are mostly under 1500 sf. Maintenance varies, but most are in good shape. Because this isn't expensive new construction and is a good lower cost family neighborhood and close to all the schools, houses sell quickly here. Our town has a robust rental market too. There's a house in the neighborhood that has been empty for decades. We've been in the neighborhood for 20+ years and we've never seen any sign of anyone living there. For years we've tried to figure out why nobody lives there. Maybe they moved overseas and stayed longer than expected? Maybe there's some major problem they couldn't afford to fix? Maybe someone died and it got tied up in endless probate? Maybe they bought it cheap with the idea of giving it to a child someday? Today we drove by and were shocked to see a for sale sign in front of the house. DH looked on the auditor's site and got an even bigger shock. The house has been owned for the past 30 years by a couple we used to attend church with! We knew they were somewhat well off, but the house is one of 30 houses they own in the city and they've always lived here! They are probably in their late 70's or early 80's now and the mortgage has probably just been paid off. By why would they leave it empty? They have all these rental houses and this one sits empty for decades? Would there be some financial or tax advantage to never making any money on the house? We can't think of any good reason. 

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I can think of a lot of reasons, but they are all improbable. There is evidence of a crime there that they are waiting for the statute of limitations to run. The house has an asbestos, mold, radon problem and there is some limit on liability after 30 years. They inherited the house and had no desire to do anything with it but needed to wait for certain family members to pass away before selling. 

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It could be that there is something wrong with the house that they don't want to spend the money to fix which makes it so they can't rent the house but they don't want to sell the house because of the tax penalty. It may be that if they just keep the house and it becomes part of their estate when they die, that the taxes would be lower. 

It could also be that they are currently receiving some tax benefit from owning the house.

Susan in TX

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Just now, HeighHo said:

I'd guess an elder relative was in it, the kind that goes to bed at sunset.

No, NOBODY lives there. There's no window coverings. No lights ever. No cars in or out. Sometimes a tree will grow up in front of the front door or garage doors.

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DH’s cousin has an empty house- he and his wife moved out of their first home into a new one, and then a few years later she passed away. A decade later that house still sits empty.  I saw it for the first time a few months ago and asked him why he didn’t sell it or rent it out, and he said he just wants it there in case either of his grown kids ever went their childhood home.  Dh’s aunt passed away years ago and her house sits empty.  
Doesn’t really explain the one in your neighborhood, though.

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I have a relative with an empty house.  It’s basically free to them, and they don’t want to live there but they don’t want to sell it.  Being in NorCal it has increased in value a great deal over the years, so it will work out well financially for them and their heirs, but I don’t think they had that in mind.  Just, inertia and lack of much of a cost of ownership.

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3 minutes ago, Susan in TX said:

It could be that there is something wrong with the house that they don't want to spend the money to fix which makes it so they can't rent the house but they don't want to sell the house because of the tax penalty. It may be that if they just keep the house and it becomes part of their estate when they die, that the taxes would be lower. 

It could also be that they are currently receiving some tax benefit from owning the house.

Susan in TX

This is something we considered, but why would they suddenly be able to sell, especially since it's likely that the mortgage is now paid off?

1 minute ago, Annie G said:

DH’s cousin has an empty house- he and his wife moved out of their first home into a new one, and then a few years later she passed away. A decade later that house still sits empty.  I saw it for the first time a few months ago and asked him why he didn’t sell it or rent it out, and he said he just wants it there in case either of his grown kids ever went their childhood home.  Dh’s aunt passed away years ago and her house sits empty.  
Doesn’t really explain the one in your neighborhood, though.

Saving it for a child is another thing we considered, but the couple who owns it has grandchildren who already own their own houses. We had another house in the neighborhood that sat empty for a couple of years after a suicide and prolonged probate, but doesn't 30 years seem a bit odd? I almost want to call the people and ask (but I don't know them that well)!

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My mother would tell us "So that people with nothing to say would have something to talk about" and I think that's about the best answer you'll get.

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I don't know, but my parents have a similar situation in their neighborhood.

They have lived in the same house since I was 11, so like 30 yrs.  They live on the end of a cul de sac.  The house in question is at the entrance of the cul de sac.  When I was a kid still living there, (the oldest of my siblings) there was a family living there that even played with some of my siblings.   The younger brother was nearly the exact same age as my brother so they played together a lot.

Somewhere around 3 yrs before I moved out of my parents house, so when my brother and this kid were early teens, the family moved away.  We don't know where they went.  

Since then, so over 20 yrs....the house has been empty.  Someone has been caring for it.....the lawn has been mowed, the roof was replaced at one point, but....yeah, it has sat empty for around 20 yrs.  No one knows why, it's like the neighborhood mystery.  A few years ago my parents found out that some town official from the next town over bought it when the family we knew left....but for whatever reason, that person never did anything with it.  I don't know why someone would purchase a suburban property, maintain it, and never make use of it.  It was never a rental or anything.  

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Many years ago I knew a very eccentric couple that had a lot of money, but the wife was a serious hoarder (like to the level of mental illness, not just buying a lot of stuff). When a house got to the point of being totally unlivable, the husband would buy another house nearby and they would move into the new house, leaving the old house untouched. When I met them, they had 3 houses and he was looking for a 4th. Every weekend he would go mow all the lawns and check the outsides, but his wife would not let him go inside for fear he would disturb or get rid of her things. They were in their late 60s and didn't need the money, so this was easier than dealing with it. I'm sure by the time they died and the houses were cleared out and sold, they were probably in tear-down condition. It was really sad.

My MIL & FIL moved out of their huge house in London and just left it. They let someone stay in it, but that person was totally abusing the privilege, she let other people move in without permission, and valuable things were getting damaged or stolen. But my ILs still couldn't be bothered to deal with it. It took me 5 months to clear it out and get it sold, and I firmly believe that if I hadn't done it no one else would have. Some people either can't be bothered with the level of physical work involved, or just don't have the mental bandwidth to deal with it, and if they don't need the money, it's easier to just leave it. 

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We used to live next door to a very elderly man.  We assumed the home was vacant for a while. 

Another possibility is that they owned the house, had no pressing need for funds and didn't want to hassle with renting it out or selling it.  

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1 minute ago, Carol in Cal. said:

I have a relative with an empty house.  It’s basically free to them, and they don’t want to live there but they don’t want to sell it.  Being in NorCal it has increased in value a great deal over the years, so it will work out well financially for them and their heirs, but I don’t think they had that in mind.  Just, inertia and lack of much of a cost of ownership.

 

2 minutes ago, LucyStoner said:

We used to live next door to a very elderly man.  We assumed the home was vacant for a while. 

Another possibility is that they owned the house, had no pressing need for funds and didn't want to hassle with renting it out or selling it.  

See, I might even believe this was the case if it weren't for the fact that they rent out 28 other houses in the city.

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4 minutes ago, mom2scouts said:

This is something we considered, but why would they suddenly be able to sell, especially since it's likely that the mortgage is now paid off?

Saving it for a child is another thing we considered, but the couple who owns it has grandchildren who already own their own houses. We had another house in the neighborhood that sat empty for a couple of years after a suicide and prolonged probate, but doesn't 30 years seem a bit odd? I almost want to call the people and ask (but I don't know them that well)!

 

I am guessing that they haven't carried a mortgage on the house recently, if ever.  Most people aren't going to hold a house that they are paying out a mortgage for unless they are living there, using the house for vacations or renting out the house.  It's possible that they inherited the house.  

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3 minutes ago, mom2scouts said:

 

See, I might even believe this was the case if it weren't for the fact that they rent out 28 other houses in the city.

If they rent out 28 other houses in the city maybe they just plumb forgot the house was in their property portfolio.  🤣

 

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14 minutes ago, Carol in Cal. said:

I have a relative with an empty house.  It’s basically free to them, and they don’t want to live there but they don’t want to sell it.  Being in NorCal it has increased in value a great deal over the years, so it will work out well financially for them and their heirs, but I don’t think they had that in mind.  Just, inertia and lack of much of a cost of ownership.

I guess paying the property taxes doesn't bother them?

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24 minutes ago, lauraw4321 said:

There is evidence of a crime there that they are waiting for the statute of limitations to run. 

My personal favorite. 

9 minutes ago, LucyStoner said:

We used to live next door to a very elderly man.  We assumed the home was vacant for a while. 

But if he was very elderly to begin with, I'm thinking he wouldn't last 20 years 😄

1 minute ago, LucyStoner said:

If they rent out 28 other houses in the city maybe they just plumb forgot the house was in their property portfolio.  🤣

 

I mean, I once forgot I had $20 in my underwear drawer, so I totally get this. 

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Some reason not to rent out—maybe a problem to fix that they preferred not to deal with, low cost to hold onto it, and preferred to wait to sell to a time when they needed the money

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16 minutes ago, mom2scouts said:

This is something we considered, but why would they suddenly be able to sell, especially since it's likely that the mortgage is now paid off?

Maybe it's being sold as a fixer-upper or even a tear-down? Or maybe it's just extremely dated and they couldn't be bothered remodeling or redecorating it to rent out? Is there a listing online with photos? 

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1 minute ago, Corraleno said:

Maybe it's being sold as a fixer-upper or even a tear-down? Or maybe it's just extremely dated and they couldn't be bothered remodeling or redecorating it to rent out? Is there a listing online with photos? 

Tear downs aren't really a thing here. Our housing prices are pretty low so it doesn't make any financial sense to tear down and build instead of fixing up and the city would likely deny the demolition permit. The house looks pretty good, at least from the outside and is the exact same style as many of the other houses in the neighborhood. We also have a large student population who wouldn't care whether it's been redecorated. I guess it would sell quickly to a flipper. Even is the inside needs lots of updating and remodeling, it would be easy to sell.

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The house is possessed and they couldn't find someone to do an exorcism, but the pandemic offers the perfect chance to foist it off on some unsuspecting soul?

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My mother passed away over seven years ago. My brother and I inherited everything. We still own her house. My brother had some things in her basement and here we are over seven years later and he's still working on getting that stuff moved. It's not that much stuff, and in the meantime he had a huge pole barn built on his property, so he's got plenty of room for it. He just seems to always have an excuse for why he hasn't quite finished moving it yet. I've gotten everything out from the inside that I can (did that years ago), and I mow and do other yard work occasionally, but he does most of the upkeep. Neither one of us has an immediate need for the money. Mostly I think getting the stuff moved isn't a high priority for him, plus I think there's an emotional/sentimental aspect, so I haven't pushed it. He inherited another house when our father died and it took him ten years to sell it, and that one didn't have much of anything in the way of emotion or sentiment involved. I think some people who don't need the money are just really, really slow about dealing with stuff they don't have to deal with.

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15 minutes ago, maize said:

I guess paying the property taxes doesn't bother them?

It has been passed down two generations so far, and so it’s grandfathered to the earliest days of Prop 13, before 1978.  So the property taxes are extremely low.  Negligible actually.

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Two strange real life stories that happened on my street growing up. Both bizarre.

1) A lawyer had bought up all the houses, planning to build an office park. In the end, he didn't get the permitting. In order to get back at the city, it let everything get totally run down, doing no maintenance for decades. The houses weren't empty, but he was getting maybe 20% of the rent he could have in the market. So maybe a feud with the area?

2) The only house on our block the lawyer didn't own was owned by a big-time drug producer. He used it to get fertilizer shipments sent to. At some point he was arrested after threatening a neighbor near one of his other houses with an assault rifle. He was sent to prison for quite a while and the house sat vacant. Maybe prison?

3) ETA we have a house on our block currently that is vacant for years on end. Nuns owned it and then get into a quarrel with the cul-de-sac association. They sold one of the two houses they owned at a loss and then just decided to let this one sit empty, maybe hoping that prices will go back up. Sporadically a friend or relative of one of the nuns stays in the house for a few weeks, maybe 1-2 months per year tops. Maybe because the society owns it and not a person they have lower property taxes? Not sure.

Emily

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22 minutes ago, LucyStoner said:

If they rent out 28 other houses in the city maybe they just plumb forgot the house was in their property portfolio.  🤣

 

First world problem.

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There is a  home in my neighborhood that has been empty for at least the 13 years we have lived here. An adult child of the (deceased) owners goes by the house frequently to take care of the yard, read his paper, and hang out. I guess maybe it is his retreat?  I don't know him except to wave and say hi, so I can't ask him. Our area was hit hard in 2008 and many houses have not fully recovered value, so I would guess that's why he's hanging on.

 

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I see so so much of this.  I am always so sad when houses sit empty for long periods of time. I imagine the beginning.....a new family, so excited to have this home.....then it comes to someone just basically thumbing their nose at it.  

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3 minutes ago, arctic_bunny said:

They bought all those properties in case the aliens needed a place to land, but recently learned the monolith landing beacon was built elsewhere.

I'm going to go with this explanation. It seems as likely as any other.😂

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8 minutes ago, EmilyGF said:

Nuns owned it and then get into a quarrel with the cul-de-sac association. 

Sounds like the pitch for a made-for-TV movie. 

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  This is not the reason for the house you’re talking about, but my grandmother’s old house has sat empty for years.  When she had to go on Medicaid to continue paying for the nursing home she lived in due to Alzheimer’s, my parents sold her house and her land.  A lady bought it for her daughter, but her daughter “can’t afford” to live there.  
 

 It breaks my heart, tbh.  My parents live next door, and every time I go there, her house looks so sad.  
 

 Sorry for being a Debbie Downer.  😂

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One reason (but not in this case) is that if an elderly person moves into a nursing home and is allowed to keep a house....so the family keeps the house until the elderly relative passes away and then it can be sold.

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We have 2 on our street and it makes me so sad.  It is one of the more affordable neighborhoods in our affluent town.  One house has been vacant for 19 years when the sweet old lady who lived there passed away.  Her son inherited the house, but he lives overseas.  We wondered if he plans to retire to this house - I'd guess he is in his 60's.  I guess he comes back every couple of years to check on the house.  Another neighbor mows the lawn and checks on the house in return for using his garage for his boat.  What's really creepy is nothing has been moved in the house.  The same vases with the same fake flowers are in the front window ... they haven't been touched for nearly 20 years.  

There is another house in the neighborhood that was owned by a nice elderly man who I guess had invented something really important that we use every day (can't remember what it was.)  He never moved from our neighborhood despite having the means to live someplace much more extravagant.  His wife was in memory care with Alzheirmer's.  When he passed away, I guess the house was in trust for his wife's care.  His adult children didn't get along and the house sat vacant and in disrepair.  After a few years, one of the sons fixed the place up really nice, but nobody moved in.  It has been fixed up and vacant for over 10 years.  I'd be surprised if the mom was still alive as she would be over 80 by now and had been in a nursing home for some time before we even moved here. 

Our neighborhood is in high demand so it seems like such a waste.  Unfortunately, many nice homes are gobbled up by developers adding to the glut of McMansions in our town.  Mean selling price is somewhere near $450,000, but there are nearly 100 homes for sale at $1 million+ (which is what these tear-down new construction homes are going for.)  

It just baffles me.   

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1 hour ago, Ottakee said:

One reason (but not in this case) is that if an elderly person moves into a nursing home and is allowed to keep a house....so the family keeps the house until the elderly relative passes away and then it can be sold.

Well, and if there is capital gain a large chunk of that is wiped out when the owner dies.

I’ve also seen where an elderly person mandates that the house cannot be sold while she is still alive.

Said house was a gorgeous huge Victorian on a big, valuable corner lot.  It was so old that it had its own water tower on the property. And a carriage house instead of a garage.  (Although it had been converted to garage doors.). Anyway, the earthquake of 89 knocked it off its foundation, so the family hired a caretaker to live there until the owner died.  He ran a car repair business out of the garage.  When the owner finally died, the property was left or donated to a very active local Catholic human care nonprofit, and someone moved the house to another location to rebuild/restore.  It was a great thing.

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1 hour ago, Ottakee said:

One reason (but not in this case) is that if an elderly person moves into a nursing home and is allowed to keep a house....so the family keeps the house until the elderly relative passes away and then it can be sold.

Yeah, there's a house like this in our old neighborhood here in Ohio.  We were stationed here back in 2000-2004, and a few months before we PCS'd in July 2004, lightning struck a house in our neighborhood, causing a fire.  

A few years later, my parents bought a house in that same neighborhood, so we would come back to visit them.  Their house was around a corner and down the street from the lightning house, so dh and I would walk by it, taking kids to the park or whatever.  The owners eventually replaced windows, siding, and roof--but that was it.  And it was obvious no one ever moved back in and lived there.  Boxes were piled up so you could see them in some of the windows.  The grass would get long, the city would post notices about liens, and eventually the grass would get mowed, but that was it. 

Eventually, in 2018, we moved back to Ohio and bought another house in this same neighborhood.  Nothing has been changed on the lightning house.  Now the garage door and front door are both terribly faded, and the house just looks so shabby.  Ironically our neighborhood got hit by a tornado a year ago on Memorial Day, and many houses were just demolished and had to be completely rebuilt.  Not this one, however!  Windows were broken, and debris was everywhere, but the structure was still good.  Eventually my mom and dad's next door neighbors, both of them young Air Force captains, organized their office to come help clean up around this abandoned house, because it just looked bad.  Eventually the windows got boarded up, but I don't think they ever got replaced.

We have wondered why neighbors haven't pushed the issue more forcefully with the city, but it seems like someone in the neighborhood finally got a little more organized with complaints., although nothing has happened still.  It turns out that the lady living there when the fire happened was elderly (a widow, I think), and the trauma caused her to decline mentally such that she could never move back into her house.  But she didn't have anyone as a power of attorney or anything before she became mentally incapacitated,  so now the heirs are apparently just waiting for her to die off so that then they can sell the house.  Or at least that's my understanding.  In the meantime, they use it as a huge storage unit.  

I wonder if they have insurance on it though--doesn't a home have to be lived in for insurance companies to provide coverage?  At least not be unoccupied for over 16 years??  It's weird, and I'm glad we don't live right around the house!  It would drive both dh and me nuts.  I would just grumble, but he would definitely escalate the situation, lol.

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I wonder if they might be using it for storage.  If they own the house the taxes and insurance is likely cheaper than the same sq ft at a storage place.  

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There's a house like that in my small town. It's two stories and on our main street. My understanding is that the family just doesn't want to let it go, even though no one is living there. 

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We have an empty house (with notices on the windows and doors, definitely empty) in our neighbourhood. It isn’t an attractive house but would be worth a small fortune just for the property. I assume it will eventually be torn down; it appears unheated in winter so the interior must be a wreck. We can’t figure it out.

My brother owns an empty house next door to his home. His is not a desirable community so he bought it to ensure he wouldn’t have problem neighbors.

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We lived in a duplex and rented one side about 10 years ago. There was a detached house with a garage across the street that was always empty. We really wanted a detached house so we started asking around about who we could talk to about renting it and that we were willing to make repairs if necessary. Turned out the house was condemned because there had been a meth lab in the basement from the previous renters years before we moved there. It was a nice enough neighborhood that you would not have suspected a meth lab but you just never know about people sometimes. The owners didn't have enough money to gut the house and rebuild or completely remove the house, basement and all with hazmat gear, and build new. So it just sits there empty for 25+ years now.

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These stories make me so sad.  How much better to let someone live there as caretaker.  The rurals where I grew up have a big problem with houses just rotting to the ground.  As old as I am I have seen lovely home places just swallowed up with grass, trees falling on houses and the tree never removed and the house never repaired.  
 

I know for a fact I will never allow a home I am responsible for sit empty like that.  

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10 minutes ago, HeighHo said:

Its also possible there is a lien against the home based on a court order.  They don't sell, the other party doesn't get paid.

That would be an exceedingly stupid reason to leave a home empty for decades.  

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2 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

That would be an exceedingly stupid reason to leave a home empty for decades.  

 

in your opinion, yes.

In the opinion of the person who lost the case and doesn't want to pay....its a great spite reason. Humans have feelings.

 

Me, I didn't put a renter in my gps house when I owned it...not up to code.  It's vacant still, 40 years later.  Be a good storage unit, if there was any small storage need in the area that would pay enough to keep it up and pay the taxes, but there isn't.  It will stay there until it collapses.

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8 minutes ago, HeighHo said:

 

in your opinion, yes.

In the opinion of the person who lost the case and doesn't want to pay....its a great spite reason. Humans have feelings.

 

Me, I didn't put a renter in my gps house when I owned it...not up to code.  It's vacant still, 40 years later.  Be a good storage unit, if there was any small storage need in the area that would pay enough to keep it up and pay the taxes, but there isn't.  It will stay there until it collapses.

Spite is never a good reason, I think most people would agree with that. 
 

I don’t know what a GPS house is.   But why not sell it instead of letting it collapse.  

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2 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Spite is never a good reason, I think most people would agree with that. 
 

I don’t know what a GPS house is.   But why not sell it instead of letting it collapse.  

Never underestimate what spite will drive people to do.... Especially in a litigious situation.

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6 minutes ago, sweet2ndchance said:

Never underestimate what spite will drive people to do.... Especially in a litigious situation.

Agreed.  But still stupid.  
 

When I I think of all the people homeless or living in horrible falling down homes it just makes sick.  

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