Representatives from Baltimore Housing’s Code Enforcement Office visited residents at Monday evening’s Southeast Police Community Relations Council meeting to discuss “boarded-up buildings, slumlords, drug nuisances, illegal dumping” and other quality-of-life problems, to name a few mentioned by Evan Helfrich, attorney for Code Enforcement.
Helfrich, along with Assistant Supervisor of Code Enforcement Shirley Edmond and a Code Enforcement inspector took questions from residents and gave an overview of their department’s responsibilities and capabilities.
Edmond noted that her office, at 3411 Bank St., is responsible for 15 sub-districts within the Police Deparment’s Eastern and Southeastern Districts. There are eight inspectors covering that area.
“We’re supposed to have one inspector in each [sub-]district,” Edmond said. “We have inspectors pulling double duty.”
She said that the agency should be fully staffed by the end of the year, “maybe.”
Edmond and Helfrich explained that their department has two modes of responding to valid citizen complaints—either with citations or violation notices. Citations involve fines, and are usually one-off actions, though fines can eventually triple if not paid.
“It’s negative reinforcement, like a parking ticket,” explained Helfrich.
Violation notices, on the other hand, give offenders 30 days to rectify a problem and are generally more serious.
“It threatens a whole parade of horribles that ‘ll happen to you if you don’t comply,” joked Helfrich.
At either day 30 or 31, Edmond said, inspectors will perform a re-inspection to check that the problem has been rectified.
Exceptions to the 30-day rule—in which property owners must act immediately—include “emergency” violations, such as a broken pipe that floods a neighbor’s basement.
Helfrich said that if fines levied on a property are unpaid, then that property could go to tax sale if there are other liabilities involved, such as unpaid property taxes and water bills, for example. Sometimes, Helfrich said, in the case of a neglected and vacant property, Code Enforcement will sue a bank or owner for ownership, if a nonprofit receiver is available to take over the property.
By the time a property reaches that point, Helfrich said, there are usually a couple $900, unpaid citations attached.
Vacants are a big problem in Baltimore, he acknowledged. In some cases, a property will have no payments made on it in the last five or six years, yet the bank will have not initiated foreclosure, he said.
These properties are particularly problematic, Helfrich added, “because any junkie worth his salt is going to find a place to stay,” and then “Baltimore’s strip-mining brigade” will remove anything of value—including the copper wiring—from the property.
How to get Code Enforcement to address a problem? Helfrich and Edmond said that the office receives complaints through 311. Several residents in attendance at the meeting commended Code Enforcement for its responsiveness.
“Evan’s office has helped the community association on many occasions,” said Victor Corbin, president of the Fells Prospect Community Association, “and Ms. Edmond has been extremely responsive to me and the community.”
Corbin also recommended 311, specifically the mobile app that allows smartphone users to file a complaint on the go.
“I used the 311 app for a couple things last week, and within a few days they were all taken care of,” he said.
Helfrich mentioned other responsibilities of the Code Enforcement Office. He said that the office can intervene in landlord disputes, if a landlord is not addressing a major issue on a property.
“Call 311,” he said. “An inspector can meet you there.”
by Erik Zygmont