Even after 20 years, there's not a plank out of place.
In most fictional works, it's normal for an abandoned place to be left undisturbed until the protagonists need to utilize it. Sure, there might be a layer of dust everywhere, but the building can sit around for decades without anyone claiming it, renovating it, or outright demolishing it. If The Voice instructs the heroes to find an Abandoned Warehouse from fifty years ago, they can rest easy knowing that it'll still be there — just break the lock, clear out the cobwebs, and continue advancing the plot.
May be justified if the location is haunted.
How much of this is Truth in Television varies widely. In highly-populated areas with thriving economies, this will almost never occur; if an Abandoned Hospital is sitting unused for any period of time, someone's going to exploit the local abandoned property laws to claim the land and build somethingnote unless the cost of cleanup and demolition are exorbitant, even if that "something" is just a parking lot. On the other hand, structures in depressed economic areas, remote locations, or disaster zones can lie untouched for years, simply because no one is around (or wants to be around) to care. But even in places where buildings do stand vacant for long periods of time, they're rarely truly vacant. Squatters, trespassers, and the homeless will take up residence for a time, usually being driven off at semi-regular intervals by the local authorities. And there's always stray dogs/cats, raccoons, and other wild animals.
A notable variation is having an abandoned room inside a frequently-used building. This one tends to be more fanciful than factual, as any reasonable custodial staff would have access to blueprints and schematics showing where everything is. For a room to remain undisturbed for decades would normally require someone (or something...) actively protecting it.
Note that this trope refers to abandoned areas that are untouched for long periods of time. Areas that are allowed to decay but are still frequented by the homeless, criminals, or local kids don't count.
Abandoned Warehouse, Abandoned Hospital, Haunted House, and Ghost City are popular subjects for this trope. See also Abandoned Area, Ragnarok-Proofing, In Working Order, and The Constant.
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The Avengers mansion was left abandoned after the break up of the team at Avengers Disassembled, and stayed that way up to after Siege, when it was given to Luke Cage and the New Avengers. Justified, as the owner Tony Stark could no longer give financial support to the Avengers, but the mansion still belonged to him, so he decided to keep it that way.
Figures in Marv Wolfman's 1980's Teen Titans story "Who Is Donna Troy?" Apparently a burnt-out building sat in that condition for about 16 years, and Donna's childhood doll was still in a room of said burnt-out building and not carried off for nesting material. And this is a key clue used by team detective Robin to track down Donna's origins, though Donna's super-intelligent big sister apparently never did.
Films — Animation
Carl and Ellie's house in Pixar's Up. It appears to have been abandoned for quite some time when Carl and Ellie first meet inside as children, and it remains that way up until they buy and refurbish it after their marriage. Egregious because World War II (and its accompanying dual housing shortages — one during the war, and one after) happened somewhere in between there.
In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana's father sets his sights on an abandoned mill as the place to set up the restaurant he dreams of starting. Not only was the mill empty for some time before he announces this, it remains empty for another ten years or so, while Tiana grows up and saves the money so she can buy the mill for the same purpose after her father dies. One of the things that kicks off the plot is that as soon as she tells the men selling the mill that she's able to afford it, she's informed that someone else just happened to outbid her on it. Given how the men are jerks who suggest that Tiana couldn't handle running a restaurant because she's black, fanon has taken to the notion that Tiana was simply lied to about the competition.
She also didn't count on the building's value increasing from the original asking price.
Films — Live Action
Disney's TRON: Legacy begins when Sam Flynn, the son of Kevin Flynn, is spurred to investigate his father's disappearance decades ago. Sam's search takes him to Flynn's abandoned arcade, which has been sitting intact for the last 25 years on the outskirts of town.
It makes sense that the building is still owned by the Flynn family, or at least Encomm, who have kept the taxes and utilities up to date (the power is still connected, for example). And the arcade was obviously shut down and dust-proofed in an orderly way. Why no-one has broken into it & stolen all the valuable arcade cabinets is another question.
It's implied by Expanded Universe material that Alan has been paying for the upkeep for the same reason he kept the pager. Of course, this brings up the Fridge Logic of why he didn't investigate the place and find the improvised laser lab. Perhaps he felt this was something that Sam needed to do by himself?
In It's a Wonderful Life George & Mary Bailey move into an old abandoned mansion which until then had been used for the local teens to throw rocks at.
Inverted in The Shadow (1994 film version): Big Bad Shiwan Khan uses his Mind Control powers to hide an entire skyscraper mega-hotel in plain sight by convincing everyone that it's a semi-active construction site.
The Victorian mansion in MouseHunt. Justified as the mouse drove out everyone who tried to live in the house. Exactly how long is that mouse's life-span?
Given how the portrait of their father changes to show various reactions throughout the film, it's safe to say there is some element of the supernatural in this universe, with the mouse being one such instance of this.
The Abandoned Hospital in Accepted has just been sitting around for who knows how long, before the kids decide to turn it into a fake college.
The possibility of squatters is lampshaded by Schrader, who warns them to watch out for hobos.
It hasn't been abandoned, but the video-rental store that holds a vital clue in Men In Black II is still there after twenty-five years, even though most people moved on to DVDs years ago.
Of course, the protagonists are part of an organisation who conduct passive Mind Rape on people, so this might explain why they never switched to DVD along with everyone else. They might also be the reason that place is still in business...
The Blackwell Hotel in See No Evil. Justified because it was just a hobby to its owners and after it almost burned to the ground, they lost interest in it.
In Double Impact, after officially teaming up, Chad and Alex, as well as their 'Uncle' Frank, set up in an abandoned villa... in Hong Kong, a city whose property shortage easily rivals New York City or London.
The Rebels in A New Hope set their base in a temple that was created thousands of years ago by a Sith who enslaved the world's population, then killed them all. The temple had been left fallow for all that time, and the traveler who rediscovered them suggested them as good locations for revolutionaries to put up a base. When they left, during the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the Imperials ransacked the base and then abandoned it themselves. In the Jedi Academy Trilogy, Luke Skywalker decides to put his Jedi academy there, thoroughly averting this trope.
At the end of Arthur Machen's The Three Imposters (1895) the protagonists stumble upon a mansion that's been abandoned since at least the eighteenth century. It's within walking distance of London and completely accessible to passers-by yet is still untouched except for the natural processes of decay slowly corroding the furniture, tapestries, and other unlooted decor.
After the Full Moon Garage in The Dresden Files is abandoned due to the lycanthrope biker gang that owned it being slaughtered, it is left relatively untouched... because other bad guys like its convenient location and run-down appearance for their own dirty work. Harry finds himself revisiting it.
The Riddle House in Harry Potter is abandoned for the most part due to Voldemort killing the original owners, who were his own family. A few families try to live there but find the place creepy, so the current owner only keeps it for "tax reasons".
The entrance to St. Mungo's Hospital looks like this to Muggles - an old mall no one has ever seen open.
In one of the early NUMA Series novels, the heroes figure out how a massive drug smuggling operation is being run and speculate as to where the drug handoff will be made. One character invokes this trope. Another immediately shoots it down, pointing out that abandoned warehouses are hard to come by in major port cities.
Live Action TV
The Hyperion Hotel has been sitting abandoned quite a long time until the title character rents it in Angel. Of course, the demon in residence there might have had something to do with it.
In the fourth season Connor also moves into what appears to be an abandoned natural history museum, full of dust and stuffed wildlife, complete with working electricity.
On parent show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it takes several years for the Sunnydale authorities to do anything with Sunnydale High after it's blown up in the season three finale. The ruins are just left standing there until the school is rebuilt in season seven.
In Fringe, the Mad Scientist returns to his lab in the basement of a Harvard building after 17 years and just has to dust the place down before getting back to work; not only has the space been left unused, but all the equipment is still there. Considering what Walter and Bell get up to down there, that might have been the smartest thing to do.
Another example of Never Recycle a Room can be found in the fifth season of the new Doctor Who series. In this case, of course, there really is something protecting the room.
Gotham City in the Adam West version of Batman had some serious problems with abandoned factories and warehouses. It's almost like they wanted them to be taken over by criminals.
This was averted on occasion with criminals such as Catwoman and the Joker using a nightclub and a joke store as fronts respectively.
Nash Bridges and his elite police unit have usually claimed a building that the city of San Francisco had lying around unused. In the fourth season, this was a former floating cannery that was later converted to a nightclub and later seized in a drug raid. It proves to be a decent place to set up shop, being spacious and having a place for everything they need. The only downside is a tendency to play "Disco Inferno" with no reason or explanation.
The characters in Highlander always find a empty warehouse nearby when they need to fight. While this is usually plausible, there is at least one case when they manage to find one close to the Seine in the center of Paris, in an area where it would need TARDIS-like features to fit. Additionally, mere space in a world city center is so prime, that every unused cube inch immediately gets seized upon by someone to do or start something, and the council will keep an eye on it too to keep tourist appeal intact.
Double Subverted in 30 Rock. Dot Com and Grizz try to take Tracy back to the apartment block he grew up in so he'll stop repressing the memories of his awful childhood... but it's been turned into a copy shop. However, the stairwell behind the office hasn't been changed, and serves to bring it all flooding back.
SimCity 2000 takes this trope and makes it go as fast as lightning. The moment tenants move out of a building, it is instantaneously transformed into a dirty, run-down ghetto shack, regardless of what it was before. Sometimes a new building will appear on that site, but usually not.
This depends all on how well one plays the game. The building remaining as run-down ghetto is a direct indication of lack of skill at managing one's city.
In Constructor and its Spiritual SequelMob Rule, if a building is left without a tenant for a long time, it will be settled... by a six-foot cockroach. Needless to say, the neighbors are a litle concerned about bad influence on their children (you know those roaches).
Par for the course in the Suikoden series. In almost every game (3 and 4 being the exceptions), the hero's army takes over such a structure to serve as their headquarters. The second game even has the hero's army claim an entire Ghost Town.
The Batman: Arkham City version of the Penguin's hideout is in an abandoned natural history museum with many of the artifacts and displays still inside. It apparently wasn't abandoned very long between shutting down and the Penguin acquiring it, so there must have been no time for anyone to loot it, despite being in one of the bad parts of Gotham.
Persona 2 has the Abandoned Factory, never explicitly stated how long it's been empty - though the power still works, as the lights and at least some conveyor belts still work. It was abandoned because rumors come true, and someone spread rumors of the place being on top of a toxic waste dump, and then that it was haunted by demons, the latter of which finally led to the executives closing the doors permanently. Given how long things have been going on this way, it may have been closed half a year or very nearly ten years.
In the... questionably canonical spin-off manga, the factory doesn't count for this trope because it's being actively used by a band of squatting Persona-users as their hideout, mostly because the presence of the demons (which they can ward off) keeps others from chasing them down or pushing them out.
In Ultima VII Part II: Serpent Isle, both Shamino's old castle and the Castle of the White Dragon have outlived two civilisations, neither of which tried to make use of the buildings. The castles are also fully intact, with furniture and decorations fully functional and with only a little cobwebs. Shamino's castle is haunted by his old fiancee, which may have driven off potential squatters, but she seems to be only hostile towards Shamino himself.
The Matrix Path Of Neo has two abandoned hotels, one that despite the fact it's falling apart inside is still used all the time.
The kids are going to an abandoned factory every episode. There's never any presence of demolition crews, and the plot only revolves around saving the factory from destruction when it's some attack from XANA. At least in the animated series: the non-canon spin-off comics have one story with a demolition crew about to raze the Factory, before being thwarted by the kids. The Factory is actually a fairly close reproduction of an abandonedRenault factory on Seguin Island in the Seine River, in Boulogne-Billancourt outside Paris. It was shut down in 1992 and demolished by 2005; the island currently awaits the construction of some sort of cultural project, probably a large art museum. (The show's factory mainly differs in color scheme; the original factory was mostly white on the outside, while the show's is more beige.)
There is also the Hermitage, a posh house in the woods that is left abandoned for 10 years. However, there are some hints of squatting (vandalism, tags on the wall...) and since the first time Team Lyoko visited it XANA was playing poltergeist, maybe this chased any squatter earlier and gave it a Haunted House reputation.
As linked in the description, there's the entire city of Pripyat, Ukraine, site of the famous Chernobyl incident. Hasn't been touched in over 20 years. Of course, there are some illegal excursions.
Pripyat, while evacuated, was never truly abandoned. Because the power station continued to function for decades after the disaster (only one reactor out of four blew up), a new city for its workers, Slavutich, was built nearby, and Pripyat was (and is) still regularly patrolled by the local police and station workers. And the excursions there are now perfectly legal, as the radiation dropped to the safe levels and authorities decided to allow visitors.
Ironically, the influx of tourists brought forth the bizarre trade of maintaining the Ghost City atmosphere, with workers "touching up" the surrounding of tourist trails and buildings so they'd look recently abandoned, and not simply decayed beyond recognition.
Abandoned room example: The Crypt of Civilization, a giant airtight time capsule at Oglethorpe University, was forgotten about for thirty years after its sealing in 1940. As it's not supposed to be opened for another 6000 years, somebody'd parked some furniture in front of the door, hiding it from notice for decades.
Urban Exploration is a phenomenon springing up all over the world where such abandoned structures are explored and documented by private persons. It turns out that abandoned buildings may very well be there, but they're not gonna be untouched for a long time. Squatters, vandals, paintballers and graffiti artists (sometimes all of them at the same time) will see to that.
That part is subverted by some Abandoned Hospitals, where equipment that was left behind decades ago — wheelchairs, bed frames, even iron lungs (read: pickup-truck-bed-sized loads of scrap metal, on casters for your convenience) have remained in place for decades.
When such equipment contains dangerous chemicals or radiation sources, this sometimes led to disasters such as Goiânia accident in Brazil, where a gamma-ray source wasn't removed (and safely disposed of) from an old radiation therapy machine when the hospital moved into the new premises.note The hospital owners were prevented from doing so by the legal dispute with the owners of the original building, and a court injunction forbidding them from removing anything from there. Their warnings about the danger of the unsupervised source in the barely guarded building fell on deaf ears. The half-demolished building was then broken into when the sole guard took a sickie to go to the movies with his family. It was subsequently found by scrap collectors, broken into, and contaminated the whole neighborhood with highly radioactive caesium-137. Four people died from acute radiation poisoning, and 249 were found to be significantly contaminated.
A notable variation is the city of Ordos, in China's Kangbashi district. It's a "new" city, built by local officials to show a healthy annual GDP, but is almost completely abandoned because it's too expensive for people to live in and because it was literally built in the middle of nowhere (the middle of Inner Mongolia).
Many ghost towns (at least the ones that aren't tourist attractions) are this.
In Mexico, when a drug dealer is arrested, all property in his name is "secured" until it can be proven it wasn't made with dirty money. Such is the case of one discotheque named "frankie oh", property of Benjamín Arellano Felix, which has been abandoned for years; at one point the entrances were blocked to stop people from going inside. In the later years publicity has been hung outside the place to prettify it a bit. More details (in Spanish) here.
In Evansville Indiana a couple discovered that an office building that they sought to buy had an entire second story that had been sealed off for over 70 years. Even with much of the furnishings removed it still contained several fireplace mantels, a stack of old canceled checks dated between June and December 1930 and and other tidbits related to the hardware company that made use of the offices in the second story.
Sunnyland, an abandoned hospital in Tallahassee, Florida. It wasn't recycled for decades due to the expense of demolishing a building filled with asbestos.
An article by the BBC about the abandoned buildings of Detroit and an author who has written a book documenting them.
Although not an entire building, the lower levels of Columbia University's Pupin Hall were almost untouched from the end of WWII until Summer of 2003, with many documents and unfinished Project Manhattan-related experiments still left lying about.
Very common throughout much of the former Soviet Union, which designed several cities to fit one economic purpose. However the split of the nation into multiple economically independent countries, the switch from communism to capitalism, and the massive increase in imports have made many of these whole cities obsolete, and they are now completely uninhabited or have incredibly low numbers of people. Even more cities in the region manage to have large numbers of unused buildings for similar reasons, and that building on new land is cheaper than demolishing and restoring buildings.