Strategies to Work with Absentee Landlords

Absentee ownership of Main Street buildings and homes can present challenges for rural communities: empty storefronts; badly maintained buildings; rents that are too high; poor energy efficiency and high utility costs; homes with overgrown lawns, etc.

Often the cost of renting space for new business startups is unaffordable, creating another layer of problems for the community. Fortunately there are several ways to address absentee ownership. These include:

Establish communication with absentee owners. The best-case scenario is to build a relationship with the owner. Help them realize their important role in the community as a property owner and how that is manifested by taking care of their property and offering affordable rents.

Determine the goals of the city and the landlord. Guidelines outlining the town’s goals help to articulate the parameters for property owners. Such guidelines could potentially keep buildings full and eliminate too-high rents.

Understand what the landlord wants out of their property. This will help determine the direction to pursue. If the owner wants their building occupied or sold, it would be beneficial to survey both landlords and business owners in town to determine average rents and sale prices for like properties. Sharing that information with the landlord can help them determine affordable rates that allow for occupancy or sale.

When absentee landlords live in places with much higher prices and rents, they might expect to be able to charge unrealistic prices and rents for their property. This hurts everyone involved: the landlord/seller; potential buyers and renters; and the community as those buildings stand empty and deteriorate over time.

Establish a business incubator. If the landlord is interested in selling and a realistic price is set, the community might consider purchasing the property as a business incubator. An incubator that helps startup businesses get a solid foundation could result in more filled storefronts.

Develop a plan. If attempts to communicate with the owner are unsuccessful, the city council may want to develop a plan that would include incentives as well as penalties for landlords who don’t meet the established guidelines.

Having community support, setting and publicizing community goals, and attempting to develop a win-win situation between the community and absentee building owners will help you deal successfully with this situation.

Contact: Kathie Starkweather, kathies@cfra.org or 402.438.8496 for more information.

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