Vacant Building FAQs

(VBR) Program

Q.  When did the Vacant Building Registration program go into effect?
A.  The VBR program has been in effect since January 1, 2010.

Q. Does VBR program apply to all properties in the City of Milwaukee?
A.  Yes, the VBR program applies to both residential and commercial properties throughout the City of Milwaukee.

Q. How will the City determine if a building is vacant?
A.  A vacant building means a building which lacks habitual presence of human beings who have a legal right to be on the premises, or at which substantially all lawful business or construction operation or residential occupancy is at a level of at least 95% vacant.

Q.  When do I have to register a vacant building?
A.  A vacant building must be registered within 30 days of it becoming vacant and/or within 30 days of a new owner purchasing a vacant building.  Each registration is good for a period of 6 months.  You can also get more information and a vacant building registration form at  You can contact DNS at 286-8824 (Vacant Building Hotline) to request a registration form and other information.

Q. What happens if I purchase a vacant property?
A. Persons acquiring a vacant building through a sale, transfer or conveyance shall within 30 days of sale, transfer or conveyance, register the vacant building with DNS.  Any person selling, transferring or conveying an ownership interest in a vacant building shall expressly inform any person acquiring or receiving an ownership interest in a property that a vacant building registration is required by the city. If purchased and occupied, call 414-286-8824 to arrange for an inspection. If non-owner occupied Property Registration may be required. If owner occupied, the seller should submit a Seller Notification form to the Property Registration Program (414) 286-8569.

Q.  Are there any exemptions from the Vacant Building Registration requirements?
A.  Yes, there are a few exceptions to the requirements to register the vacant building.  The following properties are exempt from the Vacant Building Registration requirements: 
• A single family home or owner occupied 2-family dwelling residential property that has been used as a residence by the owner for a period of at least 3 months within the previous 9 months and the owner intends to resume residing at the property.
• Properties undergoing an active renovation and all required permits have been obtained.
• Residential condominium and rental units in buildings whose vacant rate does not exceed 95%.
• Abandoned residential property pending foreclosure while subject to Chapter 200-22.5 of the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances.
• Properties that are vacant as a result of a natural disaster and covered by emergency response requirements issued by the commissioner of DNS.
• Properties that are part of an estate that is in probate and are not subject to bankruptcy provided the personal representative or executor resides within the 7 county area surrounding Milwaukee.
• Properties owned by government bodies and the housing authority.

Q.  I own a vacant duplex in the City of Milwaukee.  It’s currently for sale and I have it listed with a real estate company.  Do I still have to register my property even if I am selling it?
A.  Yes, if the building has been vacant over 30 days you must register the building with DNS.  Listing the building “For Sale” doesn’t exempt the owner from the requirement to register the vacant building.

Q.  I’m the owner a commercial strip mall.  Currently there are no tenants in my building.  I am planning on remodeling the building next year to attract new tenants.  Do I have to register my vacant building?
 A.  Yes, unless your building is currently undergoing an active renovation and all required building permits have been obtained.   The ordinance does not require owners of vacant buildings under active construction to register the building.  However, owners contemplating renovations to their vacant building must register the building.  The construction/renovation exemption only applies to active projects under permit.

Q.  Will DNS inspect my vacant building?
A.  Yes, the Department of Neighborhood Services staff will conduct an interior and exterior inspection of the building.  Owners are required to provide access for DNS to inspect the interior and exterior of the building.

Q. When will DNS inspect my vacant building?
A.  Upon registration of a vacant building, DNS will schedule an interior and exterior inspection of the building.  Thereafter, DNS will conduct an inspection each time the vacant building registration is renewed. Inspection dates and times will be scheduled by DNS.  If the owner wishes to change the scheduled inspection date or time the owner can contact DNS at least 10 days prior to the inspection date to request a change.  However, there will be limited times and dates available for rescheduling.  DNS requests that owners make every effort to keep the pre-scheduled date.

Q.  What happens if I miss the pre-scheduled inspection appointment?
A.  DNS will conduct the exterior portion of the inspection.  A violation order will be mailed to the owner to provide access to the interior of the building and a new inspection date will be scheduled.  If the owner misses or refuses to provide access to the interior of the property DNS will seek an inspection warrant from Municipal Court.  Failure on the part of the owner to provide access will also subject the owner to reinspection fees, citations, or further court action.

Q.  What happens if I refuse to allow the inspector into the vacant building?
If the property owner refuses or fails to provide entry to the vacant building DNS will seek an inspection warrant from Municipal Court.

Q.  What will the DNS inspector look for during the inspection?
A.  DNS has provided a VBR checklist which can be used by property owners as a guide to prepare for the inspection. A copy of the checklist can be obtained from DNS.

Q. Can I Suggest an Alternate Plan?
A. Upon written application by an owner or an owner's agent, the commissioner may approve a modification of any provision of this section, including the requirement for inspections and fees, provided the spirit and functional intent of the section will be observed and the public health, welfare and safety will be assured. The decision of the commissioner concerning a modification shall be made in writing and the application for a modification and the decision of the commissioner concerning such modification shall be retained in the permanent records of the department.

Q.  Is there a fee to register my vacant building?
A.  Not initially.  There is no fee to register a vacant building for the first 6 months.  Owners are still required to register their vacant building with DNS within 30 days of the building becoming vacant.  DNS will not assess a fee for the first 6 months.  If the building is reoccupied prior to the end of the first 6 month period the owner must notify DNS that the building is no longer vacant.  If after the first 6 months the building is still vacant, the registration must be renewed.  The cost of renewal is $253.50* provided the owner has property maintained the building.

Q.  How long is my Vacant Building registration good for?  And what does it cost?
A.  A Vacant Building Registration is good for 6 months and must be renewed each 6 months thereafter as long as the building continues to remain vacant.  Within 30 days of the expiration of the 6 month vacant building registration, the property owner shall renew their registration with DNS.  There is a $253.50* fee for each renewal as long as the owner has properly maintained the property.  If the owner has failed to properly maintain the property, the renewal fee will double to $507*.  Subsequent vacant building renewal fees will escalate to $760.50* up to a maximum of $1014* for property owners who fail to properly maintain the property. Vacant building inspection fees shall be charged against the real estate and shall be assessed and collected as a special charge.

Q. What happens when my VBR certificate expires?
A.  An application for renewal shall be filed with the department within 30 days of the certificate expiration.  DNS will schedule an inspection of the property.

Q.  What happens if the inspector finds building code violations?
A.  If the inspector finds building code violations, an order to correct the conditions which includes a compliance deadline will be issued.  The property owner will be given a reasonable time to make the corrections/repairs.

Q. What happens if I don’t correct violations within the allotted timeframe?
A.  Failure on the part of the owner to make the repairs within the allotted time will subject the owner to increased vacant building registration renewal fees of $507 up to $1014 (in increments of $253.50).  Additionally, failure to comply with a department order will subject the property owner to further enforcement action such as reinspection fees, citations, court action, etc.

Q.  When does the 6 month vacant building registration period begin?
A.  The 6 month vacant building registration period begins on the day DNS initially inspects the vacant building.  All subsequent vacant building renewal periods will occur at intervals of six months starting from the property’s initial VBR inspection date.

*=Fee includes a 1.6% training and technology surcharge.

Vacant building registration forms are available at The registration shall be signed by the owner, and shall include the owner's legal name, street address, the owner's phone number, and owner’s date of birth, etc.


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Milwaukee Vacant Building Code
4001 S. 6th Street
First Floor

(414) 286-2268

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