skip navigation

Building Nuisances


Building nuisances include buildings whose appearance detract from the neighborhood such as buildings that are not maintained, vacant buildings, and buildings that present a safety issue, such as a fire-damaged building or a building that remains partially built or torn down. Unsightly buildings are covered under the topic Property Maintenance and Unsightly Areas. Building code enforcement combined with a programmatic approach is being undertaken by some communities to eliminate deteriorated structures in neighborhoods that impact property values and attract criminal and drug trafficking activities.

Regulatory Options for Dangerous or Unfit Dwellings, Buildings, and Structures

Washington cities and counties have several options for regulating abandoned, unfit, and/or dangerous buildings, dwellings, and structures. These include adoption of specialized building or housing codes published by the International Conference of Building Officials and/or adoption of local nuisance provisions under various state laws.


  • Ch. 35.80 RCW - Unfit Dwellings, Buildings and Structures - Authorizes cities and counties to adopt ordinances to regulate and abate unfit dwellings, buildings and structures. Under this statute, cities and counties can establish an improvement board or officer with powers to investigate potentially dangerous or unfit buildings. If a building is found to be unfit for human habitation or other use after investigation, notice and a public hearing, the board or officer may order the owner to repair, vacate, or demolish the building, subject to certain appeal rights.
  • Ch. 35.80A RCW - Condemnation of Blighted Property - Relates to procedures for the condemnation of certain "blighted property." Under this statute, cities and counties may acquire by condemnation buildings that meet any two of the following three conditions: (1) if a dwelling has not been occupied for a period of one year; (2) if the property constitutes a threat to the public health, safety or welfare as determined by the executive authority of the city or his designee; and (3) if the dwelling has been associated with illegal drug activity in the last year.

Specialized Codes - Building Codes

  • International Building Code, published by the International Code Council and adopted as part of the Washington State Building Code, provides general authority for cities and counties to regulate and abate dangerous buildings.
Section 115, Unsafe Structures and Equipment 115.1, Conditions - Structures or existing equipment that are or hereafter become unsafe, insanitary or deficient because of inadequate means of egress facilities, inadequate light and ventilation, or which constitute a fire hazard, or are otherwise dangerous to human life or the public welfare, or that involve illegal or improper occupancy or inadequate maintenance, shall be deemed an unsafe condition. Unsafe structures shall be taken down and removed or made safe, as the building official deems necessary and as provided for in this section. A vacant structure that is not secured against entry shall be deemed unsafe.
  • Uniform Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings (1997), published by the International Code Council, is compatible with the International Building Code, and applies to all types of buildings and structures. It provides legal steps to abate dilapidated, defective buildings that endanger life, health, property, and public safety.
  • Uniform Housing Code (1997), also published by the International Code Council, is comparable to the Uniform Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings, but is applicable only to dwellings. It contains minimum health and safety standards by regulating the use and occupancy, location, and maintenance of all residential buildings within the jurisdiction.
  • International Property Maintenance Code (2009), published by the International Code Council, addresses maintenance requirements for the interior and exterior of structures, and space requirements for determining maximum occupancy. The IPMC also contains requirements for heating and plumbing in existing workplaces, hotels, and residential occupancies, and minimum light and ventilation criteria.

The uniform codes may be adopted together through passage of one ordinance, or adopted individually by separate ordinances. Sample provisions adopting these codes appear below.

Unfit or Dangerous Buildings - Sample Code Provisions

  • Blaine Municipal Code Ch. 8.14 - Unfit, Improperly Maintained or Substandard Structures or Premises
  • Cheney Municipal Code Ch. 19.16 - Unfit Structures
  • Milton Municipal Code Ch. 8.24 - Dangerous Buildings
  • Olympia Municipal Code Ch. 16.10 - Unsafe and Unfit Buildings, Structures, and Premises
  • Sultan Municipal Code Ch. 15.25 - Substandard and Dangerous Conditions/Residential Tenancies
  • Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 22.208 - Buildings Unfit for Human Habitation or Other Use
  • Sumner Municipal Code Ch. 15.14 - Unfit Dwellings, Buildings and Structures

Unsightly, Damaged, or Partial Buildings - Sample Provisions

  • Kennewick Municipal Code Ch. 9.44 - Environmental Conservation Code
  • Lynnwood Municipal Code Ch. 16.08 - Regulation and Abatement of Unsafe and Unsanitary Structures
  • Tacoma Municipal Code Sec. 8.30.040 - Specific Public Nuisances Declared
    F. Any unsightly, abandoned, or deteriorated building or structure; or any building or structure constructed with inappropriate materials, or improperly fastened together or anchored against the forces of nature. G. Any building or structure where construction was commenced and the building or structure was left unfinished.
  • Spokane Municipal Code Ch. 17F.070 - Existing Building and Conservation Code

Problems with Rental Property

Vacant Buildings and Property - Sample Code Provisions

  • Bellevue Ordinance No. 5897 - Maintenance Standards for Vacant Residents and Abandoned Construction Sites
  • Bellingham Municipal Code Sec. 10.60.170 - Handbills - Deposit on Vacant Property Prohibited
  • Lynnwood Municipal Code Sec. 10.08.200 (9) - Public Nuisance Defined
    9. All vacant, unused, or unoccupied buildings and structures within the city, which are allowed to become or remain open to entrance by unauthorized persons or the general public, because of broken, missing, or open doors, windows, or other openings, so that the same may be used by vagrants or other persons in a manner detrimental to the health and welfare of the inhabitants of the city.
  • Seattle Vacant Buildings 
  • Spokane Municipal Code Sec. 17F.070.040 - Boarded-Up Building Defined
  • Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 11.48 - Minimum Standards for Vacant Buildings

Registration of Vacant Buildings

Additional References on Vacant Property Issues 

Last Modified: December 20, 2016