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(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Bill would crack down on vacant properties

A package of legislation aimed at addressing problems caused by vacant houses in Baltimore faces an important hearing.

On Monday, the Baltimore City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee is scheduled to review two resolutions urging the General Assembly to enact state laws and a third proposed local bill that would make it easier for the city to penalize owners of neglected vacant properties.

“I don’t want to try and make some kind of ridiculous claim that this is going to make everything all better,” said Councilman Bill Henry, who introduced all three pieces of legislation. ”But I think it is one more tool that code enforcement people in housing, and the people that are in the neighborhoods impacted by the vacant houses, it’s one more tool they have at their disposal.”

During the committee hearing several amendments are expected to be added that would significantly alter the bill.

After an earlier hearing on the legislation, and a subsequent work session, it was decided the initial intention of trying to force the city to board up vacant properties higher wasn’t feasible. Henry said this was an issue because windows on the second or third level of the homes were being left open, causing damage to the property.

“I watched a particular house over the course of over a year lose $25,000 worth of value because a third-floor window broke and stayed open, and the city could require and tell the owner ‘You need to close this up,’“ Henry said. “But there wasn’t a mechanism for the city to come in and cover up that window. …”

But during the work session it became clear the city didn’t have the capacity to board homes into the second- or third-story windows, and getting access would be too expensive. So Henry decided to amend the bill to clarify what is deemed a “nuisance vacant property,” which would give the city greater leverage to penalize a property owner.

Henry has also submitted a pair of resolutions in an attempt to get the council on record as backing state legislation. The first resolution supports the creation of a program for home insurance “of last resort,” similar to the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund. The program would provide insurance to homeowners denied insurance for reasons out of their control — like a nearby vacant property.

“More and more homeowner’s insurance companies … are dropping anybody who is adjacent to a vacant house, which is a huge problem because there’s nothing a neighbor can do about the fact the house next to them is vacant,” Henry said.

A second resolution also announces council support for legislation seeking that would require banks to “promptly” record deeds of properties bought at auction.

About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.