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Vacants versus Unoccupied: How we define the Empty Houses in Baltimore City

Posted: 4:46 PM, May 12, 2022
Updated: 2022-05-12 16:46:07-04
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BALTIMORE — As we continue to follow the issue of vacant properties plaguing Baltimore City, we are also working to determine how exactly the City classifies a property as 'vacant.'

On Sunday, firefighters pulled 35-year old Miguel Soto Diaz out of a burning building. His body also appeared to have gunshot wounds, but police have not yet confirmed his cause of death.

However, when police released information on his murder, they did call the house he was pulled from, 325 Furrow St., 'vacant.'

"Initially, the fire department was dispatched to the location to extinguish a fire of a vacant dwelling."
- Baltimore Police Department press release from May 8, 2022
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With our continued investigations into vacant properties, we went to confirm the vacant building notice and how long it's been vacant with the City.

But the City doesn't list 325 Furrow as a vacant property. We confirmed the information we were seeing with the City's Department of Housing and Community Development.

This is what the Department's Community Development map shows of the 300 block of Furrow street, with the centered bright red boxes indicating the address has an open vacant building notice.

A spokesperson for the Department was able to tell us that while the property is not one of the 14,822 vacants currently listed, it also is not occupied.

They sent us the portion of the Baltimore City Code that specifically defines 'vacant' properties.

325 Furrow has been registered as an owner unoccupied property, meaning the person who owns the property had no intention on living there.

This kind of registration is required in Baltimore City, and needs to be renewed each year.

Data from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance maps out the percentage of residences in different communities that are not owner-occupied.

Just because a property is not owner-occupied, doesn't mean it's sitting empty. Many of these property owners are likely renting them out.

Since 2019, all property owners who plan to rent, including owners of single- and double-family homes, are required to be licensed by the City.

DHCD confirmed to WMAR-2 News that while 325 Furrow St. was registered as an owner-unoccupied home, it was not licensed as a rental property, leaving it legally empty at the time of the fire.

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We are working with the City to determine how many properties are registered as owner-unoccupied without rental licenses, to get a better picture of the total number of empty residences in Baltimore.

As we work to bring more clarity to vacants in the City, we hope this article helps to bring more clarity and transparency about the language we use moving forward.