While most property owners hope their building transaction will take place swiftly, it’s common for real estate to sit on the market for a period. Sometimes, to maximize value, the owner allows the empty building temporary use. At other times, unscrupulous individuals might squat or misuse a property for their own means. Empty buildings are an unfortunate target for vandalism and more.

A high profile example is a rowdy party held in Washington, DC in 2008. While the party itself took place ten years ago, it’s in the news today because of a recent Supreme Court ruling involving on-premise arrests. This party was hosted by a woman named Peaches, who had discussed rental with the landlord but hadn’t followed through. Partygoers were invited to the vacant home and engaged in numerous illegal activities while there.

District of Columbia et al. v. Wesby et al.

Police arrested everyone at the party for unlawful entry. An appeals court sided with attendees, claiming they were there by invite and that their arrest was unjustified. The counter argument was that the building was clearly vacant due to its barren condition. The Supreme Court later reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision, finding that police had qualified immunity because they “reasonably concluded they had probable cause.”

Protecting the rights of vacant property

There are many legal factors at play in this case concerning criminal activity, and individual and police rights. Of note to homeowners, though, is the importance of lease agreements and the dangers of an unsupervised property. Whether a property owner is having difficulty with the misuse or unauthorized use of their land, such as the DC party and costly but less serious issues like vandalism, a real estate attorney can help property owners understand and enforce their rights.