We received an interesting email the other day, and since we’re fond of publishing reader mail, we thought we’d share this one with you.  In the email, “Baltimore Landlord” poses some interesting questions.

I don’t get it.  Say someone buys a house as an investment.  He tries to find a “good” tenant, i.e. someone who will be a good neighbor, not destroy the house and pay (a normal) rent on time.  If he can not find such a person, what should he do?  Should he put in addicts and illegals who will pay minimum dollars just so the property won’t be vacant?  Or should he rent to a Section 8 tenant, in which case he will have to have a Taj Mahal in perfect condition, and lose money on his investment?  In my opinion there is nothing wrong with a vacant property, as long as the property is maintained.  This means that if the neighbors see a problem, they should immediately contact the owner to get it taken care of.  Similarly, if you see the grass is high, maybe be a good neighbor and mow it when you mow your own lawn.  (You could even send a “reasonable” bill to the owner who would be glad to pay you so he doesn’t have to deal with it himself!)  If there is a little bit of trash littered on the property, pick it up before it gets worse.  You are living there and see things as they happen, the owner only sees the property periodically.  If people didn’t just attack the owners things would work a lot better for everyone.
What are your thoughts?

Our response:

First let me thank you for taking the time to write.  Obviously you put thought into your questions, and I’m going to try to address both of your emails in one.  Please feel free to respond if you still have questions on this topic.

If the overall problem was as simple as you make it out to be in your email, we would agree with you.  And most of our neighbors do look out for each other, including a neighbor’s vacant rental property.

The people we list on our website are not absentee property owners who live far away, with few exceptions.  They are not people who simply own a house for extra income.  They are, for the most part, well versed in real estate law, and Baltimore City building codes.  However, with this in mind, they choose to violate the law, and create health and safety hazards for not only their tenants, but for the surrounding community.  In most of the cases, we’re not talking about a “little” bit of litter.  We’re talking about buildings that have caved in, or dumpster loads of debris and rubble that was left by the owner or his/her contractors when the property was abandoned.  In the case of 1110 Carroll Street, these owners were cited and fined more than once by the city for violations at that address, and they were cited and fined by the Maryland Department of the Environment for lead paint violations in multiple properties.  As a landlord, it is your responsibility to perform lead abatement for the health and safety of your tenants.  The MDE offers abatement classes, and there are several lead abatement contractors who will perform the work for you.  There is no excuse for not doing it, no legal excuse, and no ethical excuse.  One of the landlords we’re looking into has been sued over 450 times as a result of lead paint, building code violations, and other health/safety/trash issues.

We don’t expect people to lose money on their investments.  However, with any investment comes a certain amount of risk, and (in the case of rental property) a large amount of responsibility.  We expect property owners to maintain basic health and safety standards.  Nobody’s attacking these people.  On the contrary, they, through their negligence, are causing problems for others.  Good property owners take care of their investment.  Look at some of the properties featured on our website and ask yourself if you would allow your own property, the house you live in, to fall into such a state of disrepair.  If it’s not good enough to meet your basic needs for shelter, why would you expect a tenant to live there and put themselves at risk?  If your next-door neighbor (whose home is attached to yours) allowed his house to cave in, and it caused water damage, rodent infestation, and a fire in your house — would you still be as tolerant?

We came across one property that was a complete mess.  After doing some research, we discovered that the man had only owned the property for two months.  After calling him about his property, he cleaned it up immediately and it hasn’t been a problem since.  Now that, Mr (or Ms.) Baltimore Landlord, is a good property owner.  And we didn’t add him or his property to the website.  There are a few cases like this, so we saw no need to list them.  Most cases, however, are not so neat and tidy.  We use quite a few criteria before deciding to add someone to the website, it’s not arbitrary or personal, please be assured of that.  And many of the properties we visit on tips from neighbors or by driving by don’t get added simply because they’re boarded up but very clean and tidy.  You can tell that whoever owns the property comes by periodically to check on it, which is what we would expect of a good property owner.  Again, they would never be added to the website, and we have quite a long list of them.

The properties you see on the website are among the worst we see daily.  We’re not out to “get” anyone, we simply want people to live up to the responsibility they take on when they purchase an investment property.  Nobody would want to live next to a slum property.

Thank you again for your email, and please feel free to write us any time with your questions and concerns.  We truly appreciate your feedback.

We love reader mail like this.  Opening the door for dialogue was actually one of the reasons we started this blog.  So many of our city’s neighborhoods have suffered because of clusters of blight, and we don’t want people to think we’re heartless and not open to the possibility of having a fair and civil discussion on this topic.  We feel very strongly that each and every resident of this city has the right to live in a safe, healthy environment, and that starts with basic shelter.

Some useful resources for landlords, homeowners, and residents:

Baltimore City Health, Building, Fire, and Zoning Codes

Michie’s Code of Maryland

Maryland Department of the Environment Lead Abatement Requirements for Homeowners