Many cities across the country have taken broad steps to combat the problems vacant homes can cause — none, however, have been as creative as Cleveland, Ohio.  Cleveland is comparable to Baltimore when you look at the percentage of abandoned properties — before and after the foreclosure crisis. We wondered how Cleveland was dealing with blighted homes, and we wondered what Baltimore could learn from Cleveland.  All roads seemed to point to Cleveland Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka.

On the surface, it appears that Judge Pianka’s programs are pretty innovative, but when you dig deeper, you’ll find that while he has indeed implemented some creative programs to combat problems in his city, his ideas are based on one principle — enforcing the laws that already exist.  Holding people and companies responsible for the damage they’ve done to their tenants and to their communities.  Sadly, in Baltimore, holding people accountable and enforcing the existing laws count as “innovative”.

Because so many of Baltimore’s slum properties are owned by corporations (a vast number of them owned by shell LLCs) — we’d like to see Baltimore implement one of Judge Pianka’s ideas — set up a separate corporate docket to deal with corporate owners of blighted properties.  We’d also like to see Baltimore implement a system of fines similar to Cleveland’s.  Companies can face up to $5000 a day for outstanding violations, and $1000 a day if they’re found to be in contempt (since so many of them are no-shows in court).  Not only does Cleveland assess these fines, the important thing to note — they collect the fines — either through bank levies or liens on the properties.  Also, many of Cleveland’s homes are demolished once condemned by the city.  In Baltimore, a condemned property can be sold many times — usually to one absentee property owner after another.  We consider this to be not only a flagrant waste of taxpayer money, it does absolutely nothing to combat the problem.

Hopefully by watching the actions of other cities, Baltimore will start to take notice of programs that are working — and implement them. You can read more about Judge Pianka and Cleveland’s Housing Court here.