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Homeowners ordered to vacate their homes are finding years later they're still on the hook for back taxes, code violations and mortgage payments for the now-trashed and vandalized houses.

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Joseph Keller and his wife Jennifer stand on the porch of their abandoned house in Columbus, Ohio on Sept. 30, 2012. The Kellers are among thousands of U.S. homeowners legally liable for houses they didn’t know they still owned, after banks decided not to complete foreclosures.


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The Kellers look through their former home in Columbus. The foreclosure sale promised by the bank never took place, and Mr. Keller is now on the hook for tens of thousands in back taxes, mortgage payments and code violations.


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The Barnhart family, from left, Olivia, Holly, Bailey, Brian and Bennett, stand outside a bank-foreclosed home in Cape Coral, Fla., that they bought and remodelled. The Barnharts, who never received the title from the previous owner, recently moved out after unsuccessfully trying for months to get the legal title from the bank.


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Cleveland Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka looks on during court sessions in Cleveland, Ohio Oct. 4, 2012. Since 2006, some 10 million U.S. homes have fallen into foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, a real-estate information company in Irvine, Calif., a number that in earlier, more stable times would have taken nearly two decades to reach. More than two million of those have never come out of foreclosure.


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Joseph Keller stands outside the kitchen door of his abandoned house in Columbus, which has been stripped to its studs by vandals and rendered worthless. Mr. Keller has advanced liver disease but has been denied disability benefits because the house constitutes an ‘asset.’


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Brian Barnhart talks with his wife Holly inside the bank-foreclosed home they bought and remodelled but never received the title for. The Barnharts have since moved out.


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Joseph Keller looks at the trash and damage in the attic of his abandoned house in Columbus.


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Vandals took some walls down to the studs in the Kellers’ home. The toilets, kitchen appliances and other fixtures have all been removed.


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Ordinance violation notices are posted on the garage door of an abandoned home in Cape Coral, Fla., Dec. 15, 2012. The Mortgage Bankers Association has opposed measures to force banks to take more responsibility for vacant houses.


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Overgrown trees and shrubs line the driveway to a foreclosed home in Cape Coral. In recent months, abandoned homes have exploded in Chicago, Cleveland and Bridgeport, Conn., because after foreclosed homeowners had moved out there was no one around to smell gas leaks.


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