Category: Spotlight on Slumlords

City of Chicago Posts Data on Problem Property Owners. Hey, So Do We!

Fantastic news, if you’re a tenant in Chicago — you now have the ability to see where the problem owners are, so you can avoid them. It’s like having your own Slumlordwatch, only this is sanctioned and recognized by the city.

What’s really interesting about Chicago’s ordinance is that it somewhat echoes one of the rules Vacants to Value started with — owners who were not in compliance with existing properties would be unable to purchase more, through the city, until their other properties were brought to code. From Chicago’s website:

Building owners who appear on the list will not be able to obtain business licenses, receive zoning changes, acquire city land or receive financial assistance like Tax Increment Financing (TIF), or obtain building permits not related to addressing their violations.

Unfortunately, Baltimore has all but disregarded its own rules, allowing people who are not in compliance to purchase more homes through their V2V auctions. For example, John Reiff. He’s been able to purchase 10 homes under his own name, and four under his shell company “Land Research Associates” since 2010. He also purchases homes at city tax sales, despite being disbarred for bid-rigging at other municipal auctions, and the deeds aren’t being recorded, shielding him and others who do the same from accountability. A sampling of Reiff’s tax sale purchases:

  • 1642 Lochwood Road, right of redemption foreclosed in 2012, yet the home is still receiving the homestead tax credit, and ownership information has not been updated.
  • 3037 Walbrook Avenue, purchased with another Reiff-affiliated shell company, ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2012, ownership information is not updated.
  • 1019 Darley Avenue, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2012, ownership information is not updated.
  • 1677 Darley Avenue, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2011, ownership information is not updated.
  • 505 S Bentalou Street, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2011, ownership information is not updated.
  • 1805 E Federal Street, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2012, ownership information is not updated.

What’s really shocking is that while ETS Maryland was purchasing city-owned properties, the city was filing receivership cases on ETS — 25 total open receivership cases, in fact, going back to 2008.

Then we come to Stanley Rochkind — a landlord who has been the defendant in hundreds of lead paint lawsuits and other housing violations, dating back to at least the 1980s. Not to mention, he owns dozens of blighted dilapidated homes under various business trusts, LLCs, and other shell companies. I was able to find 150 of them, though I believe there are many more.

Citizens need to be aware of who they’re doing business with — a home, even for a renter, is an investment. For most people, it’s their single-largest monthly payment. Many kudos to the City of Chicago for recognizing that taxpayers need to have all the tools possible to make good choices — and we’ll keep writing about Baltimore’s bad landlords until we’ve written about all of them.  Because for every John Reiff and Stanley Rochkind out there who don’t play by the rules, there are dozens of people who want to be responsible property owners, and we need to pave the way for them — a good first step would be putting the bad ones out of business.

 

 

A Year Ago

On February 19, 2014, a natural gas explosion caused part of 447 N Lakewood Avenue to collapse, with three people taken to the hospital for their injuries. Also, a child died as part of the home fell on him as he was walking by on the sidewalk.  The child, Troy Douglas, was walking home from school, and should have been at a birthday party later that day.

447 N Lakewood Avenue, shortly after the gas explosion that killed one person and send three to the hospital.

447 N Lakewood Avenue, shortly after the gas explosion that killed one person and send three to the hospital. Photo by Shannon Fernandez

Taken just days before the explosion -- natural gas connection at 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Shannon Fernandez

Taken just days before the explosion — natural gas connection at 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Shannon Fernandez

Residents in the home reported the smell of natural gas, and an inspector was dispatched — an inspector who allegedly found no fault with the gas connection or the furnace, despite the photo above, which clearly shows a flex tube that isn’t properly connected. Was this the cause of the explosion?

At the time of the explosion, the property was owned by Marywood Real Estate Investors, who then sold the home for $100 in April, two months after the explosion. The home is currently owned by MBE Properties, LLC, with an address in Kingsville, MD. There are no current permits on file for this property — the last permit was a demo permit to assist fire investigators so they could determine the cause of the explosion.

This is what the home looks like today:

447 N Lakewood Avenue, photo by Reader Rusty

447 N Lakewood Avenue, photo by Reader Rusty

Memorial at the front door of 447 N Lakewood

Memorial at the front door of 447 N Lakewood. Photo by Reader Rusty

Rear of 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Reader Rusty

Rear of 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Reader Rusty

 

WWJD? 1439 N Patterson Park Avenue

Property Address: 1439 N Patterson Park Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21213

Property Owner: Rising Zion Baptist Church, Inc., 2300 Llewelyn Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21213

Resident Agent for Rising Zion Baptist Church, Inc.: Reverend Theodore D. Addison, Sr., 1540 Northgate Road, Baltimore, MD 21218

City Council District and Contact: District 13, Warren Branch

State Senator (District 45): Nathaniel McFadden

State Delegates (District 45): Talmadge BranchCheryl Glenn, Cory V. McCray

1439 N Patterson Park Avenue -- Photo by Reader Rusty

1439 N Patterson Park Avenue — Photo by Reader Rusty

Rising Zion has owned this property since 2007. Photo by Reader Rusty

Rising Zion has owned this property since 2007. Photo by Reader Rusty

 

City Owned Blight: 4202 Audrey Avenue

Property Address: 4202 Audrey Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21225

Property Owner: Mayor and City Council, 417 E Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

City Council District and Contact:  District 10, Ed Reisinger

State Senator (District 46): William C. Ferguson IV

State Delegates (District 46): Luke H. Clippinger, Peter A. Hammen, Brooke E. Lierman

Thanks to Reader MC for the photo — according to her, the home has been vacant for 10+ years. Time to get this home back into circulation!

4202 Audrey Avenue

4202 Audrey Avenue

2107 E Federal Street

Property Address: 2107 E Federal Street, Baltimore, MD 21213

Property Owner: Harbor Pier Homes, LLC, PO Box 741109, Houston, TX 77274 (A Scott Wizig-controlled entity. You can read other posts about Scott Wizig here.)

Resident Agent for Harbor Pier Homes, LLC: Stephen L Harker, 35 Fulford Avenue, Suite 203, Bel Air, MD 21014

City Council District and Contact: District 13, Warren Branch

State Senator (District 45): Nathaniel McFadden

State Delegates (District 45): Talmadge Branch, Nina R. Harper, Cheryl Glenn

2107 E Federal Street

2107 E Federal Street

2107 E Federal Street -- window on the first floor is open, giving access to vagrants.

2107 E Federal Street — window on the first floor is open, giving access to vagrants.

1312 McHenry Street

Property Address: 1312 McHenry Street, Baltimore, MD 21223

Property Owner: Daniel J Blair, 1303 Jones Station Road, Arnold, MD 21012

City Council District and Contact: District 9, “Pistol” Pete Welch

State Senator (District 40): Catherine E. Pugh

State Delegates (District 40): Frank M. Conaway, Antonio L. Hayes. Barbara A. Robinson

1312 McHenry Street

1312 McHenry Street

11 S Conkling Street: Major Code Violations

Update: As of January 12, all code violations have been fixed, and the tenants now have heat.

———————————————

Property Address:  11 S. Conkling Street, Baltimore, MD 21224

Property Owner: 2042 Kennedy Avenue, LLC, Baltimore, MD 21224

Managing Member/Resident Agent for 2042 Kennedy Avenue, LLC: Anthony E. Kelley, 504 S Newkirk Street, Baltimore, MD 21224 (Company is not in good standing with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation)

City Council District and Contact: District 2, Brandon Scott

State Senator:  William Ferguson IV

State Delegates:  Pete HammenLuke ClippingerBrian McHale

Thanks to one person (Reader SF), the owner of this property has been cited for 24 separate code violations by Baltimore Housing. The home is occupied as a rooming house (some would say flophouse), with people living in the unfinished basement, in dangerous conditions. The tenant who was living in the cellar filed a rent escrow complaint with the District Court of Baltimore City, but the complaint was dismissed. Unfortunately, this is a story we hear far too often — our District Court judges need to pay more attention to these complaints, and take these cases seriously when the tenant has documentation to back up their claims. Nobody should be forced to live in uninhabitable dangerous conditions, only to be told by a judge “Too bad.”

The code violations are as follows:

  • Hallway at top of basement steps: Defective floor
  • Basement steps: Area lacks proper protection
  • Basement steps: Defective stair riser(s)
  • Basement rear wall: Defective wall
  • Throughout basement: Illegal extension cords
  • Basement rear ceiling: Defective electrical fixture
  • Basement front: Multiple defective electrical outlets
  • Basement front: Defective water pipe
  • Dining room wall: Defective electrical outlet
  • First floor kitchen: Defective floor
  • First floor kitchen ceiling: Defective ceiling
  • First floor kitchen: Fuse box missing
  • First floor kitchen: Windows or doors not weatherproof
  • First floor kitchen: Defective door hardware
  • First floor kitchen: Defective electrical outlet
  • Rear second floor bathroom: Window glass cracked or missing
  • Rear second floor bathroom: Defective toilet
  • Throughout second floor bathroom: Defective walls
  • Rear basement: Cellar being used as habitable space

The owner, an LLC, has been given 30 days to correct all violations, and has also been ordered to stop allowing people to live in the cellar. You can read the violation notice, in its entirety, by downloading this PDF file.

This is just one of hundreds of unsafe, unhealthy homes I heard about in 2014. Our elected officials need to do more to hold these property owners accountable. Many times the residents won’t complain out of fear of retaliation and being evicted (link opens a PDF) — but this resident complained, and most likely — she and her family will have to move. Why should our most vulnerable residents bear the burden of unsafe and unhealthy housing when we have laws in place to stop property owners like this one? Hold these folks accountable, and demand that our state and local government enforce the laws intended to protect residents from unsafe housing.