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Using abandoned houses


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#1 Lance Tang

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 07:54 PM

Hey guys, just wanted to check the legality of using abandoned locations (a house) in your film. The house in question was not sold, the company went bankrupt, and I believe the property is owned by the bank. Do you need permission to use the property?

What if I didn't get permission, used the property, and then distributed my work. Could I be liable to get sued?
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 12:29 AM

You'll need permission of the property owner or else you're trespassing and that's a crime and you can be arrested. Legally, you need a location release, if you don't get one, yes you can be sued. Furthermore, any abandoned building will probably require insurance for yourself and your crew for injury. (disclamer, I am NOT a lawyer and the laws of your state/town may differ, consult with one)
I've shot in vacated houses before, normally ones that are on the market for sale, by working with real estate agents. They sign the location release form with (i would assume) the owner's consent.
Best to go through your local film office for such location needs.

Another issue with abandoned houses is also electric use... if the house has electric, how are you going to pay the bill you run up? And if it doesn't, one would think the generator and noise you'll generate will certainly get some attention....
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#3 K Borowski

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 01:10 AM

I prefer the "Ed Wood" method to Adrian's approach: "We don't have a permit. . . RUN!"
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#4 Sam Martin

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 02:13 PM

And don't forget the insurance implications. Whatever way you decide to do it, make sure you have public liability, employers liability, equipment insurance in place and cover for accidents. If you go through the proper and recommended channels you will be asked to produce one anyway. If you decide to go guerrilla style, well, you can get into major trouble if anything happens.... And running around with expensive gear while being chased is something prone to falls and injuries...
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#5 Rob Vogt

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 11:25 PM

Go to the mayor's office, they should be able to tell you who the current property holder is. Depending on how long it's been abandon and what style the house is there could be asbestosis, mold or any number of other problems that can put you and your crew at risk if you don't check up on.
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#6 JD Hartman

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 12:42 PM

No, not the Mayor's office, the Tax Accessor or Property Tax office. Given the address, they can tell you the current owner, lein holder if any and contact information. In most states in the US, nothing is just "abandoned". Sometimes a commercial property owner will just walk away from a property to avoid paying taxes, in which case it reverts to the city.
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#7 Mark Dunn

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 12:57 PM

You don't say where you are; in the UK trespass is not an offence per se and you can't be removed from abandoned property without a court order, unless you used force to enter it.
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#8 Chris Keth

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 01:18 PM

You don't say where you are; in the UK trespass is not an offence per se and you can't be removed from abandoned property without a court order, unless you used force to enter it.


So if somebody's front door was not locked and you entered despite being told by the resident to stay out, that is not a crime? :blink:

Anyway, for the OP: do it properly and get permission. If the police show up while you are trespassing and shooting, all of your equipment can and probably will be seized as evidence. You don't want that.
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#9 Mark Dunn

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 01:34 PM

So if somebody's front door was not locked and you entered despite being told by the resident to stay out, that is not a crime? :blink:

Anyway, for the OP: do it properly and get permission. If the police show up while you are trespassing and shooting, all of your equipment can and probably will be seized as evidence. You don't want that.

I did say an abandoned property.
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#10 Chris Keth

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 04:25 PM

I did say an abandoned property.


I guess what I'm thinking is that a property is rarely if ever actually abandoned nowadays. Somebody owns it.
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#11 K Borowski

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 05:49 PM

In most states in the US, nothing is just "abandoned". Sometimes a commercial property owner will just walk away from a property to avoid paying taxes, in which case it reverts to the city.


You don't say where you are; in the UK trespass is not an offence per se and you can't be removed from abandoned property without a court order, unless you used force to enter it.



Chris, I think the differences in national laws accounts for this difference of opinion.
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#12 JD Hartman

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Posted 21 January 2010 - 01:14 PM

The builder/developer went belly-up, the bank own the properties, you stated this in your post. How is that "abandoned"? You're tresspassing and when caught, the bank will more than likely press charges and charge you with all cleanup and repair costs, real or imagined. Distribution rights to your film, is the least of your worries.
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