Vacant properties are one of the greatest challenges facing Baltimore’s neighborhoods. As they slowly deteriorate, they depress the value of all surrounding properties, cause disinvestment, and discourage investment in the neighborhood. Many studies have been conducted on the impact of vacant properties on real estate values. Having a vacant property within the same block can reduce the value of an occupied property by up to $6,700. In addition, many property insurance companies refuse to write insurance policies in blocks of vacant properties due to the high incidence of fires.
Some real estate purchasers acquire mostly vacant property—at low cost, making no improvements—and allow the properties to deteriorate until another purchaser can be found. These property owners may pay the taxes and water bills on the properties, as well as the fines for code violations, but they take no action to bring the properties up to code and make them habitable.
The Community Law Center amended and secured passage of legislation (the “Community Bill of Rights”) that empowers community associations to bring a lawsuit against irresponsible owners. The legislation, which went into effect October 1, 2012, amended the Baltimore City provisions in the state Community Bill of Rights statute. Before this amendment, the statute excluded cases against boarded vacant properties, required the payment of a bond, and prohibited many Baltimore City community associations from qualifying as plaintiffs.
Following passage of the statute, Community Law Center partnered with co-counsel from Venable LLP and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law filed a lawsuit in April 2013 against an out of town property owner who held vacant properties under the auspices of 9 LLCs in several different neighborhoods in Baltimore City. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in August 2014, which ordered that the 49 vacant structures in the case must be brought up to City Code standards within a specific time frame.
Although the outcome of this pending court proceeding is not certain, Community Law Center is committed to working with communities to pursue actions against individual vacant properties as well as systemic changes to combat the negative effects vacant properties have had on neighborhoods in Baltimore City.