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Tool 3: Legal and Financial Issues

Tool 3: Legal and Financial Issues

Urban land parcels often have tangled ownership histories, and may be subject to unresolved financial obligations as well. Even when properties have been taken by the city or county for tax foreclosure, the nature of the procedure in many states results in the title that the city or county gets being defective and uninsurable. Properties are subject to liens and judgments; while most of these are eliminated through property tax foreclosure , where the county or city has provided defective notice, the liens may still be on the books.


If  the city owns the property and plans to convey it either now or in the future to a third party, the key question is: Do I have clean and marketable title?

  • IF NOT, the city or other appropriate entity must take the necessary steps to obtain clean title. What those steps are should be determined in consultation with an attorney familiar with the laws of the jurisdiction.


The legal ability of a city to gain control of vacant or troubled property varies widely from state to state. If site reuse depends on the city having or gaining control of the property, part of the process of determining the reuse potential of any site will include an assessment of whether the city already owns the property, and if not, the likely cost and time to acquire it – if it can be legally acquired at all. The city or other entity seeking to acquire the property must ask the following questions:

Is the owner willing to sell?

  • IF NO, can I get control of the property through tax foreclosure?
  • IF NO, do I have other legal means to gain control of the property?
  • IF YES, is the price reasonable and can I afford it?
  • IF YES, how long will it take and can I afford to wait that long?
  • IF YES, how much will it cost and can I afford it?


In addition to acquisition costs, many reuse options may impose other costs, such as environmental remediation, demolition or remediation of subsurface conditions, before the reuse may be possible.


Potential Costs Associated with Site Reuse

potential costs associated with site reuse


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