Amount of Time to Remove a Nuisance: Eight Months Give or Take

WYPR Radio
By P. Kenneth Burns

Other cities in Maryland and across the country are looking to Baltimore for ideas on how to deal with vacant properties. The one method that has caught their attention is receivership; one of the tools of the “Vacants to Value” program started by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in November 2010.

Salisbury enacted a receivership law earlier this year. Frederick has been in consultation with Baltimore Housing for the past year on the process. A proposal is expected to be before the Frederick Board of Aldermen in September.

Receivership begins when a property owner fails to respond to code violations. The city goes to court requesting someone be appointed to address the violations, tear down the house or auction the property off to a pre-qualified bidder – who has proven it has the resources to take care of the property – for the purposes of rehab or demolition. Because of the lengthy legal process, receivership takes eight months on average.

“We have filed probably more than a thousand receiverships since we launched the vacants to value program,” said Michael Braverman, deputy commissioner of permits and code enforcement for Baltimore Housing. He adds more receiverships have been filed since the launch of Vacants to Value.

How soon the receivership process starts depends on where the vacant property is located. Some properties are in streamlined enforcement areas, where the city moves forward if property owners do not address code violations. Other properties are in community development clusters; an area where there is market interest in redevelopment. Officials will proceed straight for receivership.

While anyone can become a court-appointed receiver, the city prefers to work with One House At A Time, a non-profit based in Hampden. “We would want to work with them because it is a pretty complicated job and it does require taking losses,” Braverman said.

One House At A Time mostly deals with individual properties that are sold for less than $20,000. “We are now getting [problem] properties from Canton and Fells Point and a variety of other neighborhoods that are quite established and the property values are quite high,” said Larry Grubb, the organization’s executive director.

In May, officials from the city, Healthy Neighborhoods and the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council began discussing how to address more than two dozen vacants in the 22-hundred and 23-hundred blocks of Callow Avenue. Grubb says receivership is possible for those two blocks, but it is unlikely to work if a developer needs several consecutive buildings.

Barbara Bezdek, professor at the University of Maryland’s Carey School of Law, says Baltimore’s receivership law has been well regarded around the country adding that it’s an ideal strategy for parts of the city where Vacants to Value does not reach. “It involves a responsible person overseen by the court [taking] on the demands of renovating this property; ideally in consultation with the neighborhood so there will be a taker,” Bezdek said.

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