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Mosby to introduce bills to increase fines for negligent vacant property owners

A vacant home in Baltimore.
Paul Joseph/Flickr
A vacant home in Baltimore.

City Council President Nick Mosby will introduce three bills Monday that would increase fees for negligent vacant property owners.

One would require owners to foot the bill for emergency response services provided by the Baltimore City Fire Department at their properties. Another would create a rising fee structure for multiple 311 service requests at vacant properties. A third would increase Baltimore’s vacant building registration fees.

“This is going after deadbeat property owners in the city of Baltimore,” Mosby said in an interview. “When we look at the 15,000 plus vacant buildings in our communities, we know that they sit at the core of many of the problems that we face, be it environmental issues, public safety issues, economic growth and vitality of our communities.”

The Democrat’s legislation comes six weeks after three Baltimore firefighters died while responding to a blaze at a vacant home in the New Southwest/Mount Clare neighborhood.

The three-story rowhome on S. Stricker St. has been in the same family since 1988. Robert Shore Jr., who relocated to Huntingtdon, PA in 2008, told the Baltimore Banner that his family has tried selling the property, which has accrued about $50,000 in liens and been listed in several city tax sales, to no avail.

The home was declared vacant in 2010. In 2015, four firefighters sustained injuries responding to a fire at the property. It was demolished after this year’s fire, along with two adjacent rowhomes.

Mosby said his proposed fees will serve as a deterrent against vacants falling into disrepair by incentivizing owners to address complaints about their properties, which will “move some of the property out of these deadbeat property owners into the hands of responsible property owners that actually care about the city.”

The emergency response fees bill would charge vacant home owners hourly for Baltimore City Fire Department vehicles dispatched to their property. They’d pay $400 for each hour a fire engine is dispatched at their property and $500 per hour per truck.

Vacant homeowners would also be charged for services provided by fire personnel. Fire investigation services would run $500 an hour; should firefighters need to put out a blaze, water incident services would be $400, $800 or $2,000 an hour, depending on the response.

Hazardous material services are similarly tiered at $700, $750 and $2,780 an hour, depending on the severity of the incident. A hazmat technician would cost another $50 an hour.

Mosby said his office has not consulted the fire department on the bill.

The 311 services bill would penalize vacant owners for complaints about the conditions of their properties. Complaints found valid by city investigators would begin costing owners once they accrue two or more within a 12-month period. The second complaint would cost them $100, the third $200 and the fourth $300; a tenth complaint would cost $2,500. Fees would be due 30 days after they’re issued; the city’s Environmental Control Board, which would oversee the penalties, would be able to charge $50 late fees for each outstanding bill.

The third bill would increase fees that owners must pay when they register their properties as vacant with the city. Owners of residential structures currently pay a one-time registration fee of $100; the bill would increase that to $300. One-time fees for non-residential buildings are currently $250; they’d double to $500.

The bill also would require owners to re-register their vacant properties for $50 every six months. Those fees will rise to $500 if properties have outstanding building or fire-related code violations.

All three bills would go into effect 90 days after they become law, which will require sign-offs from the council and Mayor Brandon Scott.

Mosby said the fees will not harm the city’s vulnerable, but speculators who purchase homes they intend to sell at a profit to developers further down the road.

“Some folks who purchased homes 30 years ago with this great American Dream are now living in between two vacant properties. Those owners are paying $300 in taxes while they're paying a couple of thousand dollars in taxes, yet water’s running into their basement or their roof is collapsing and their porch is deteriorating because of the vacants,” he said.

The three bills are the latest in Mosby’s House Baltimore package. He rolled the first bills in the housing and neighborhood stability legislative initiative early last year.

His push to revive the famed dollar house program is also a House Baltimore venture. The proposal went before the council for a preliminary vote earlier this month; it did not pass out of committee.

Mosby said he’ll continue to try to push the revival forward.

“I have six other members on the council that believe in it and seven others that still have some concerns. So those concerns, we're going to continue to work through,” he said.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.