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Vacant, Abandoned, and Distressed Property Legal Research Guide: Search Strategies

The focus of this guide is the search for local land use laws relevant to vacant, abandoned, and distressed properties. This research guide includes links to primary and secondary sources.

Google Search Box

Use the Google Search Operator tip sheet or  Google Advanced Search template to refine your searches. 

Generating Search Terms - Topical

Take a few minutes to generate a list of possible search terms before you start your research. You'll probably find that there will be a family of terms that deal specifically with the non-legal aspects of your topic, and terms that relate to the legal and planning aspects of your topic. 

Let's assume we're looking for newspaper articles and other current awareness materials regarding vacant and distressed property. Think about the words that are part of your topic in terms of these categories:

  • Synonyms: abandoned property (buildings, lots, real estate), distressed property (buildings, real estate), vacant property (buildings, lots, real estate)   
  • Broader: blight, urban decay  
  • Narrower Terms or Planning Terms: infill, urban infill, code enforcement, land banks (banking), nuisance, nuisance abatement, neighborhood stabilization program, vacant property registration (registry), vacant property land management
  • Related Terms: new urbanism, foreclosure, property tax foreclosure, tax delinquent properties, predatory speculation, redevelopment, real estate transactions
  • Terms of Art: land bank   

As you review and evaluate your search results, you will learn which terms and combinations of terms are most effective in particular contexts/databases. You will be able to expand this list of search terms as your understanding of the subject area and the language used to describe it grows. 

See also the Housingpolicy.org Glossary of housing terms.

Generating Search Terms - General

In order to effectively search for local laws, it will be useful to search the Internet for collections of relevant local  laws / model laws which have been brought together by others.  Here are some search terms that are often used when describing these collections:

  • Local Laws:  bylaws, codes, local laws, ordinances, plans, comprehensive plans, master plans
  • Types of laws: overlay districts, overlay zones
  • Regional actions: intermunicipal agreements, IMAs, regional planning
  • Model [Laws]: draft [laws], model [laws], proposed [laws], sample [laws]
  • Collections: best practices, case studies, clearinghouse, success stories
  • Guidance: guidelines, handbook, manual, toolkit, toolbox
Also keep in mind the state or federal laws which may be described as:
  • enabling acts, enabling laws, enabling statutes, acts, laws, statutes, regulations