Rows of wood-frame triple-deckers have provided moody backdrops in movies like “Mystic River,” a first glimpse of Boston for passengers who have landed at Logan International Airport and, for generations now, an affordable and reasonably spacious place to live.

But in the boom years, three-deckers presented a different kind of opportunity. Out-of-town investors bought them, sometimes by the block, and rented them out without keeping them up.

”For many people, they’re a form of business,” said Timothy M. Warren Jr. of the Warren Group in Boston, which tracks real estate transactions. “There are absentee landlords; they take the risk, and if it doesn’t work, they walk.”

In Boston, three-family homes represent 14 percent of the housing stock, but made up 21 percent of foreclosed property in 2008, according to the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development.

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